Prior to September 2021 family law disputes were heard by either the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court depending on the nature and complexity of the case. The two Courts were then merged to create the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia with a single point of entry, intended to give families more efficient access to justice. More than a year on, we have seen a number of positives flow from the change.
The new Court brought with it a new harmonised set of rules and practice directions with a greater focus on dispute resolution. This includes more detailed Pre-action Procedures with a comprehensive list of steps that a person must take before they are allowed to approach the Court, including inviting the other party to participate in Dispute Resolution (commonly, mediation with the assistance of a neutral third party).
These Pre-action Procedures are designed to discourage people from commencing Court proceedings unless they have made a genuine attempt to resolve their dispute and they have provided sufficient information to the other side to enable those discussions to take place. As a result, more couples are attending Dispute Resolution and reaching an agreement without having to approach the Court.
If Court proceedings are commenced, the documents now required provide the Court and the parties themselves with more comprehensive information at the start of a case. The Central Practice Direction gives more consistent structure to how a matter is conducted and progressed toward a resolution. This, coupled with the appointment of many new Judges, Judicial Registrars and Registrars, is in our experience helping to have matters heard, or resolved with the assistance of the Court, faster and more efficiently. The Court continues to conduct most Court appearances electronically (retaining the system set up following the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic) significantly reducing the time and legal fees involved with those attendances.
WMD Law’s family law team have always been focused on trying to resolve a family law dispute swiftly by agreement. Unfortunately, that can be difficult where one party is uncooperative or has unrealistic expectations. The new Pre-action Procedures and Court assisted Dispute Resolution events are helping bring those parties to the negotiating table now.
If you have any questions about the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia or if you would like assistance with a family law issue, contact our team on 9525 8688. We also invite you to download our free Divorce and Separation eGuide.