5 things you need to know about the Court merger

In February this year, the Australian Government passed legislation to merge the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia. The new Court known as the ‘Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’ (FCFC) will officially commence on 1 September 2021.  

(There will be two divisions of the FCFC. The Family Court of Australia will become Division 1 of the FCFC and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia will become the Division 2 of the FCFC. The new Court will have a total of 111 judges, including 90 specialist family law judges.)  

  1. What limitations in the current system need to be addressed?  

In an interview in November 2019, Chief Justice Alstergren expressed dismay about the long periods of delay in the family law system telling the Sydney Morning Herald that “there is no doubt the system is chronically suffering from a huge amount of work in backlogs and delays and those delays are unacceptable… That’s what keeps me up at night, how upset people are in the system and how they shouldn’t be in the system, you know, for as long as they are.”  

During a recent interview with a Lawyers Weekly reporter, the Chief Justice commented that “since the legislation passed to establish the new Court, we have been working tirelessly towards creating the significant and meaningful change to create the best system we can with the resources available to the Court.” He also mentioned that he is “determined to develop a system that the Australian community deserves.”  

2. What are the goals of the new Court?  

The Chief Justice has emphasised that the FCFC will provide a completely new family law system which focuses on risk, responsiveness and resolution. 

The new Court will achieve this goal by:   

  • Improving early risk identification and safety of children and vulnerable parties;  
  • Encouraging smarter ways to separate with less acrimony, less cost and more dispute resolution, where it is safe to do so;  
  • Expecting compliance with court orders;  
  • Enhancing national access to justice for vulnerable parties and regional communities through the use of technology; and  
  • Resolving up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months, where possible. 

In other words, the changes aim to place a greater emphasis on encouraging parties to settle their disputes, where it is safe to do so, before proceedings are issued. If someone decides to commence proceedings, the system aims to ensure that person is aware of the ramifications for them and their family.  

For those cases that do need to proceed to litigation, the new Court aims to provide a modern, transparent and more efficient system of justice which is aimed at getting these parties through the process as safely, quickly and fairly as possible without undue delay. It is also aimed at dealing with the increasing rate of family violence in our community by ensuring risks to vulnerable parties and children at high risk are identified at the very earliest stage in the litigation and treated appropriately. 

3. Will there be new rules and procedures?   

Yes. The new Court will, for the first time in 21 years, have a single point of entry and harmonised rules, forms and case management processes to provide a streamlined approach to family law proceedings. It will simplify procedures and enable cases to be moved through the family law system quickly and fairly and with as little detrimental impact on families and children as possible.  

4. What are some of the key changes?  

A National Contravention List will be introduced on 1 September 2021 to address the expectation that all parties will comply with orders of the Court, and that alleged breaches of court orders will be taken seriously and will be dealt with quickly.   

The new case management model will involve the increased participation of Senior Registrars, Registrars and Family Consultants early in the process to undertake the triage and case management of all matters filed.   

There will be changes to the work to be undertaken by Child Dispute Services, including the issue of a report known as a Child Impact Report, which will be designed to assist the parties in parenting matters to reach agreement wherever possible, and to provide expert guidance to the Court for interim hearings.   

The Court will also launch a new website from 1 September 2021 which is designed to provide users with a simplified and convenient way to access court information.  

5. Will the changes affect the running of my matter?  

If you have an existing matter before the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court, the new changes will not have an immediate effect on the running of your matter. Decisions will be made on case by case basis.  

On Tuesday, 10 August 2021, Chief Justice Alstergren provided the legal profession with an overview of how the new Court system will operate.  More to come on this shortly.

How O’Loan Family Law Can Help

If you are thinking about separating or have already separated, please get in touch at (02) 9922 2230 or send us an email at info@oloanfamilylaw.com.au to discuss your matter in complete confidence.  We can advise and guide you to find the right resolution pathway for you and your family. O’Loan Family Law offers specialist family law advice, conveniently located in North Sydney on Sydney’s North Shore.  We help separating families find amicable solutions that consider your unique situation so you can move on with your life. Our fixed and value pricing service offerings include collaborative practice, assisted DIY separation and what we like to call, the traditional family law pathway. We’ve got your back.

See relevant publications:  

Family Court & Federal Circuit Court Media Release – Countdown to the commencement of the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia  

Family Court & Federal Circuit Court Media Release – Update to the family law profession: Commencement of the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia  

We need to do things differently’: What the new family law system will look like following the major court merger – like following the major court merger. Written by Naomi Neilson and published by Lawyers Weekly on 2 August 2021. https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/biglaw/32088-we-need-to-do-things-differently-what-the-new-family-law-system-will-look-like-following-the-major-court-merger  

It keeps me up at night’: Chief Justice on chronic family law delays. Written by Bianca Hall and published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 November 2019. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/it-keeps-me-up-at-night-chief-justice-on-chronic-family-law-delays-20191101-p536lh.html 

About the Author

Sabrina Scheele O'Loan Family LawSabrina Scheele is is a solicitor at O’Loan Family Law and is an expert family lawyer. Sabrina is an experienced litigator and skilful negotiator in all family law matters.

Connect with Sabrina on LinkedIn: Sabrina Scheele | LinkedIn

This post is an overview only and should not be considered as legal advice.  If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.