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Family Law, Law Reform

Changes to Family Law System

The Federal Government recently announced big changes to the current Family Law court system which are expected to result in 8,000 more cases being resolved each year.

The Family Law court system is currently made up of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia across all Australian states and territories, although Western Australia generally acts separately. These courts are in various locations in the States and Territories. In New South Wales alone, there are 14 locations where the Federal Circuit Court of Australia regularly sits and 12 locations where the Family Court of Australia regularly sits.

The Family Court of Australia deals with more complicated property and parenting matters, while the Federal Circuit Court of Australia handles all other matters.

Currently, there are lengthy delays in having matters resolved in both these courts. We have noticed that in the Newcastle registry, where we usually commence proceedings on behalf of clients, there is usually a wait of 1-2 years before the matter will be finally resolved by way of a final hearing before a judge. In other locations, parties can wait in excess of 3 years for their final hearing.

Even where a matter has been listed for a final hearing, it is common for judges to list more than one hearing for the same date, in the hope that one or more of the matters will settle by agreement between the parties before the hearing date. If none of the scheduled matters settle, then the judge will choose a matter to take priority and the final hearing for the other matters will be pushed months into the future. This obviously causes great cost and inconvenience for everyone involved.

It is reported that about 22,000 matters are commenced in these two courts each year, with a current backlog of about 21,000 matters. Furthermore, about 1,200 cases are transferred from the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to the Family Court of Australia, or vice versa, each year, which can lead to additional delay and duplication of processes.

From 2019, the Federal Government plans to combine the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to create a new court named the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. It is hoped that this new system will improve efficiency, reduce duplication of processes caused by transfers between courts, and result in consistency of procedures in Family Law matters.

We hope that this change will result in cheaper and more efficient outcomes for our Family Law clients. If you have a Family Law matter that you wish to discuss, please contact us.

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