The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) has been established by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021, bringing together the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
These reforms received Royal Assent on 1 March 2021 and commenced on 1 September 2021.
With a focus on innovation and fair and efficient processes that centre on risk, responsiveness and resolution, the new Court will, for the first time in 21 years, allow Australian families the opportunity to resolve their disputes faster through simplified procedures.
The system will prioritise minimising risk and harm to children and vulnerable parties, and parties will be given ongoing opportunities for dispute resolution where it is safe to do so. For those cases that do need to proceed to litigation, the Court provides 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.
In the general federal law and migration jurisdictions, the Court will continue to ensure that justice is delivered effectively and efficiently through the enhanced use of technology and centralised case management processes.
A new court structure and approach to family law
The new court structure delivers many benefits to assist Australian families:
- a single point of entry for all family law matters
- a new case management pathway
- improved early risk identification for the safety of children and vulnerable parties
- smarter ways to separate with less animosity and less cost by using more dispute resolution, where it is safe to do so
- expectation of compliance with court orders
- specialist court lists
- a focus on dispute resolution and an increase in internal dispute resolution in parenting and financial matters
- enhanced and effective child expert reporting processes
- an appellate jurisdiction exercised in Division 1 through a Full Court model rather than an Appeal Division
- enhanced access to justice nationally for vulnerable parties and regional communities through the use of technology, and
- an aim to resolve up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months.
Structure, specialisation and leadership
The Court comprises two divisions:
- Division 1 (a continuation of the Family Court of Australia) deals with family law matters. Division 1 has 35 specialist family law judges hearing both trials and appeals.
- Division 2 (a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) deals with family law, migration and general federal law matters. Division 2 has 76 judges; 55 of which are specialists in family law and the remainder experts in various areas of general federal law and migration.
The Court will operate under the leadership of one Chief Justice with the support of one Deputy Chief Justice, who each hold a dual commission to both Divisions of the Court. A second Deputy Chief Judge assists in the management of the general federal law and Fair Work jurisdictions of Division 2.
Specialist judges with expertise in family law will continue to be appointed to both Divisions. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 requires that, by reason of knowledge, skills, expertise and aptitude, all judges exercising family law jurisdiction must be suitable to deal with family law matters, including matters involving family violence.
Highly skilled Registrars will undertake case management, conduct interlocutory and interim hearings, and dispute resolution, across family law, general federal law and migration.
The expertise of judges, registrars, court child experts and staff, will guide and lead the delivery of a world-leading federal law system.
All appeals from Division 2 of the Court and decisions of Family Law Magistrates of Western Australia are heard by a single judge, unless the Chief Justice considers it appropriate for the appeal to be heard by a Full Court. All appeals from Division 1 of the Court will be heard by a Full Court. There are no changes to the rights to appeal as provided for under the Family Law Act 1975.
Case management pathway for family law
A new case management pathway aims to ensure that 90 per cent of case are resolved within 12 months of filing.
Matters filed in the Court follow a nationally consistent case management pathway, which is set out in general terms in the below diagram:
The first court event takes place within six to eight weeks of filing. Where it is safe to do so, parties will be required to undertake mediation or other dispute resolution within six months of filing, with the aim of resolving their dispute earlier in time and reducing the financial and emotional stress of litigation.
If they are still unable to settle, they will be sent to trial which is to commence, where possible, within 12 months.
The operations of the Court is underpinned by five guiding philosophies which are the foundation behind all our work.
We will drive change by:
Being a modern, innovative court leading change
Our focus is on ensuring justice is delivered safely, efficiently and effectively. The Court is embracing innovation, technology and change. In particular, we aim to change the culture and conversation around family law litigation.
Using dispute resolution to reduce costs, delay and emotional stress
Court proceedings should see seen as a last resort. The Court expects people to make genuine attempts to engage in dispute resolution, to avoid the time, cost and stress associated with litigation.
Providing parties with information that they can separate smarter
We are actively changing the culture and conversation around family law litigation, with one clear message: You Can Separate Smarter.
Where it is safe to do so, you can take ownership of your dispute. Whether you agree, partially agree or don’t agree at all, you can mediate at any stage, as many times as you need.
Placing an emphasis on our response to family violence and risk to children
The Court places children, litigants and their safety at the heart of the process. For some families, it may be unsafe to resolve their disputes without the help of the Court process and Court Orders. Know there are people and internal processes that can help you.
Ensuring we have the expertise and resources to deliver initiatives
With confidence and integrity, the expertise of judges, judicial registrars, court child experts and staff, will guide and lead the delivery of a world-leading federal law system.