The new Family Court System
In 2018, Attorney-General Attorney General, The Honourable Christian Porter introduced a Bill which may see the Australian Family Law systems face massive shake-ups. As part of new sweeping changes, the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia is proposed to be amalgamated to form the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (‘FCFCA’).
Currently, families navigating their way through the Family Law Courts system face confusing procedures, crippling wait times and significant backlogs.
These structural reforms aim to firstly to streamline the two courts and remove any crossovers which currently occur, provide for consistent rules and procedures, improve systematic efficiency and maximise the expertise of Judicial Officers.
So, what does this mean for you? If you have a matter currently before either of these courts, these proposed changes will not affect your proceedings. However, if you envisage bringing a matter in 2019, it is important to be aware of these proposed structural changes and know how they will affect you.
Why is the court system changing?
Currently, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court hear different matters, operate under different rules, and use different forms and procedures. Alarmingly, the number of family law matters awaiting resolution in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has increased from 17,200 in 2013 to 21,000 in 2018.
Overwhelmingly, during the 2016-17 financial year alone, 106,000 applications were made to the respective courts. All the while, the median time for a trial to be heard in the Family Court is 17 months and 15.2 months in the Federal Circuit Court.
As the influx of family law cases continues to rise and families continue to be crippled by long waiting times and confusing processes, Attorney General, The Honourable Christian Porter, has handed down broad level, structural changes which aim to resolve these systematic issues.
How will the FCFCA operate?
If the proposed changes are adopted, all family law matters will be heard by the FCFCA which will operate through two divisions.
Division 1 will comprise of all existing Family Court Judges and deal only with family law matters.
Division 2 will be made up of all existing judges of the Federal Circuit Court and hear family law and general federal law matters including fair work matters. Despite the two divisions, all family law matters will have the FCFCA as their one, single, point of entry with your division and judge being allocated immediately according to your matter type and the judges expertise/ capacity. Both divisions of the FCFCA will maintain existing court rules and through ongoing consultation, aim to develop consistent forms, procedures, administrative matters and practice directions in due course.
What is the current status of the proposed bill?
The proposed bill was passed through the House of Representatives on 27 November 2018. It was then introduced into the Senate on 3 December 2018. The Senate has referred the proposed Bill to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee (‘Committee’) to conduct an inquiry. The Committee is due to hand up their report on 15 April 2019.
How this will affect your family law matter
If you have a current matter before the court, these proposed overhauls will have no immediate effect on you. If the reforms are implemented, transitional arrangements will be put in place for managing existing matters to ensure they are dealt with efficiently and with minimal disruption. If you wish to bring a family law matter before the courts in 2019, these structural changes may affect you. It is likely that more information will come to light if the implementation of these reforms are adopted by the senate.
The world of Family Law in Australia is set to change. This broad-level overhaul aims to see reduced wait times, streamlined processes and the expertise of Judges we utilised effectively.
These changes may affect you if you intend to bring your family law matter in 2019. If you have any questions as to how these structural changes may affect your current matter, of if you intend to bring a matter in the new year, please contact our family law team to discuss how these changes will affect you directly.