In a move that has been hailed as one of the most significant changes to the family law system in 40 years, the Government has passed legislation enabling a merger of the two primary Family Law Courts in Australia being the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Under the new system, these courts will merge in an effort to try to be more cost effective and efficient in delivery of justice for litigants. The new court will be called the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) and will start operating under Rules adopted by Parliament on 1 September 2021.
The main changes are expected to be the delivery of a judgement within 12 months of filing an application and most importantly will include a single point of entry, harmonised forms for the court and updated processes aimed at encouraging mediation in the initial phase of the matter but providing for a timely delivery of a final judgement within 12 months if agreement is unable to be reached.
The aim is to start with a process where any application that is filed will have a return date, it is expected within six to eight weeks of filing and from there parties will then enter a mediation or dispute resolution process prior to the six month mark. If they are unable to settle, it is envisaged that 90% of matters will then have a final hearing within twelve months from the date of filing.
We are excited with these proposed changes as at the moment the delay in the system is anywhere from two to three years and at the moment, the system is disjointed and excessive delays mean further costs and stress for clients.
As the new system has not yet commenced, it will be interesting for us to see how things play out but we are certainly very excited by the proposed changes.
Importantly for many of our clients, there is to be new proposed changes to the consequences of parties who do not comply with court orders. If there is no reasonable excuse for non compliance these matters are planned to be dealt with very quickly and orders can be changed or reassessed. There will be much more focus on ensuring orders are complied with. The Chief Justice Alstergren indicated in a recent seminar for the legal profession that the system has long been fraught with issues of persons and parties not complying particularly where children are involved and the plan is to make the system more robust to further meet the needs of families and for parents with whom the children do not live.
We will provide further updates as they become available.