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Published: 07 August 2018
Author: Adele White and Elizabeth Becker
The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court will be merged from the start of next year, a move which is expected to significantly cut waiting times for trials, which have currently blown out to 18 months.
The reforms, announced by the Federal Attorney General, Christian Porter, follow a complete overhaul of the current Australian Family Court system.
The new court will be called the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA).
As it stands, Australia has two federal courts that are set up to deal with family law cases. Each year, there are up to 22,000 cases filed across both courts.
Of those cases, the Family Court will typically hear matters which involve complicated financial and parenting arrangements, cases with allegations of child abuse or disputes which involve trusts.
The Federal Circuit Court is set up to deal with the rest.
As the system currently stands, families face long delays in having their matters heard which only adds to the emotional and financial strain of a family law dispute.
The system was described by President of the Law Council of Australia, Morry Bailes, as a “court system in crisis”. The significant deficiencies of the system have been largely blamed on a lack of funding and delays in appointing judges to each of the Courts.
The new court will be split into two divisions. The same judges that decide cases in the current Family Court and Federal Circuit Court will transfer to the new court when it is in operation.
In addition to the two divisions, there will also be a new Family Law Appeal Division. This purpose of this division will be to hear all appeals in family law matters which come out of the new court.
The hope is that the new combined court will dramatically reduce the backlog of unresolved cases and simplify the process for families going forward.
The new FCFCA will mean that families no longer have to navigate between two courts when filing their first application. The confusing way in which the courts currently divide matters means that almost 1,200 cases are transferred between the courts each year, which only adds to delays for families.
The new FCFCA will also only have one set of rules. Currently, each court has its own set of rules, forms and procedures. This means, particularly for people who do not have a lawyer representing them, that the process is very confusing. The changes will hopefully help to relieve a bit of this confusion moving forward.
The Attorney General has estimated that these changes will improve the efficiency of the family law court system by up to a third. This means that an extra 8,000 cases could potentially be resolved each year.
Family Law disputes are often delicate and upsetting for all involved. These reforms are a very welcome change for families who go through the system each year. If all goes to plan families will face fewer delays, lower costs and faster resolution of their matters, bringing relief for families and in particular for children as quickly as possible.
* Adele is a law undergraduate who is currently working with us as a paralegal.
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