Change of Federal Circuit and Family Court Structure
While it was a big thing in lawyer land, not many people outside of our circles knew about the change of Court structure that occurred in September 2021 in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (as it is now known) or the “Court” for short. In the last 12 months has the new Court achieved the goals that it set out to achieve?
The focus of the new Court was fair and efficient processes that centre on risk, responsiveness and resolution. This was said to be achieved through simplified procedures, with a focus on dispute resolution where it is safe to do so. The aim was to resolve 90% of cases within twelve months. Previous timelines for resolving matters within the Court system were two to three years.
Data released by the Court confirms there has been significant positive developments including:
- The Court has reduced the number of pending cases in the system;
- The number of matters that are being commenced have been reduced due to new requirement to engage in dispute resolution procedures for both parenting and property matters; and
- Due to the fact that the Court has increased its resources including a number of Registrars and Court Child Experts, the amount of time it takes to resolve matters has been reduced.
There are still some further changes required
However, despite the significant inroads that the new Court has been able to make, there are still some further changes required. These are identified by the Court as follows:
Application for Consent Orders
If you and your ex-partner come to an agreement together on how you want to finalise your property and/or parenting issues, you can apply to the Court to make them binding through an Application for Consent Orders.
Following the new Court’s introduction, there was a slight increase in the amount of Application for Consent Orders that were ‘rejected’ by the Court because the documents filled needed additional changes. The increase occurred in the December 2021 to January 2022 period.
To resolve this issue, the Court provided a number of different resources to Registrars tasked with considering Application for Consent Orders.
Since the extra resources have been introduced, the Courts have been reporting an increase in the number of Applications that are being approved.
They are also reporting that Applications are being reviewed within a two to three week time period. When the new Court was introduced, the wait period was approximately five to six weeks.
Electronic subpoena material
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, material produced under subpoena largely had to be physically inspected (yes, in person and through a hard copy version!). Practitioners were unable to have electronic copies of the documents forwarded to them to review, as the documents were highly personal.
While the Courts were shut down during the COVID-19 lockdowns, to ensure the continued progression of matters in Court, new regulations were introduced to allow subpoena material to be produced electronically rather than in hard copy.
The regulations included that practitioners were required to give personal assurances that the documents produced under subpoena were not distributed, not even to their client. The regulations saw a reduction in costs of people attending Court, due to the review process taking less time.
The new Court system has seen a continuation and the Court has outlined they “will continue to allow a degree of flexibility where appropriate”.
Notice of the amount of money spent
The new Court system has introduced the requirement for practitioners to provide their clients with a notice of the amount of money spent to date on fees and the amount of money they envision the client will spend ongoingly.
This is a welcome change to ensure transparency and can ensure people within the family Court system are aware of the money spent, with the aim of focusing them on a resolution.
In line with the principals of the new Court system, the Court have also received funding to allow for the rollout of the Lighthouse Project nationally. The Lighthouse project assists families that experienced family violence or other safety concerns to navigate the family law system. The project also assists families by identifying risks and providing access to tailored support services.
Our focus is on ensuring the best outcome for you and your family
Overall, the goal of the new Court system in encouraging dispute resolution rather than litigation has the tick of approval from all of us at O’Loan Family Law.
Here at O’Loan Family Law our focus is on ensuring the best outcome for you and your family. We believe that goal is usually best achieved when you work with your ex-partner if it is safe to do so. It seems the Court shares our viewpoint.
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 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 service offerings include collaborative practice, assisted DIY separation and what we like to call, the traditional family law pathway. We’ve got your back.
About the Author
Emily Nugara is a Solicitor of O’Loan Family Law and is available to answer any questions you might have about the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Emily has worked in Family Law since 2019, having worked as a family law paralegal in a large firm prior to her admission as a solicitor in 2022.