Why is the Government looking to merge the two courts?

The Government is proposing a change the current structure of the Family Court system – which currently operates in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia.  The Government wants to unify the two separate courts into would become the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

Under the outlined system there would be a single-entry point for any family law matters that would then be filtered into one of two appropriate Divisions. Division 1 would essentially be a continuation of the Family Court; Division 2 would be a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court. These changes to the structure are intended to:

  • create a consistent pathway for Australian families in having their family law disputes dealt with in the federal courts;
  • improve the efficiency of the federal court system, and
  • ensure outcomes for Australian families are resolved in the most timely, informed and cost effective manner possible.

According to Attorney-General Christian Porter, the governments reasoning for introducing these reforms are to “simplify the system by creating a single entry point, one set of forms, procedures, rules and practice management styles, making the court process easier to navigate for families and saving them considerable time and money in the process.”

Opposition to the bill

There has been opposition to the proposed changes from members of parliament alongside stakeholders in the legal profession. An open letter to the Attorney-General published by Women’s Legal Services Australia and cosigned by 110 different organisations challenge the government to rethink these changes. The letter highlights that a merger of the two courts would result in a loss of “a stand-alone specialist superior Family Court” lessening the effectiveness for vulnerable families in the community.

Independent MP Zali Steggall has also voiced her concerns over the proposed changes “The reason it takes so long to go through the Family Court system is they, like so many other departments, are underfunded”. Echoing the letter highlighted above, Steggall also added “All you’re doing is putting two systems into one, you’re losing the specialisation of the Family Court.”

The legislation was not passed through the senate in the final sitting week of 2020 so will be revisited in early 2021.

If you have any questions on how the proposed changes may affect your situation please get in contact with our specialist family law team for further guidance on (02) 9525 8688.  Our lawyers have extensive experience within the Family Court system and will be well equipped to help you, whatever the outcome of the proposed merger.