For general federal law hearing types, please see General federal law: Hearing types
Court proceedings should always be considered a last resort after all efforts have been made to resolve the issues in dispute without the court process (where it is safe to do so). Parties are required to engage in dispute resolution prior to filing a proceeding in the Court as part of the pre-action procedures. For more information, see Before you file - pre action procedures in parenting and pre-action procedures in financial proceedings.
If you are unable to resolve your dispute after participating in dispute resolution, an application in the Court may be commenced.
This page explains in general terms the types of court events you may be attend as part of your family law proceedings.
The general requirements for what the Court expects from parties and practitioners at each court event, and what is likely to occur at each court event, is set out in the Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management. You should read this practice direction together with the information on this page.
First court event
The first court event is a procedural hearing where the judicial officer conducting the hearing, a Judicial Registrar, hears from the parties about what steps need to be taken to prepare the matter for the next stages of the Court process (such as attending dispute resolution). The Judicial Registrar will make orders and directions for the timely progression of the matter.
This may include orders for the gathering of evidence, valuations, expert reports or disclosure, orders to attend an event with a Court Child Expert, or complete a parenting course or program. Where the parties agree, the Judicial Registrar may also make interim parenting or financial orders where appropriate.
Unless the matter is urgent, the first court event will be between 1 and 2 months from the date of filing.
The Court expects that, subject to any safety and risk issues, including family violence, parties (or their legal representatives) will have complied with the pre-action procedures, identified the issues in dispute, had discussions about what steps need to be taken, and attempted to agree on them, before the first court event.
A directions hearing is another type of procedural hearing that may occur where required to make orders or directions about the case. This may be conducted by a Judge, Senior Judicial Registrar or a Judicial Registrar.
An interim hearing is a court event where a decision can be made about particular issues in dispute in the case on an interim or interlocutory basis, by a Judge or a Senior Judicial Registrar.
Parties are required to provide a minute of proposed orders and a Case Outline Document before an interim hearing.
At the interim hearing, the Judge or Senior Judicial Registrar will consider the material filed by each party and hear submissions in relation to the interim issues in dispute. Parties will only be cross-examined during an interim hearing in exceptional circumstances.
Interim orders are effective until the matter can be finally determined. The Court aims to limit the number of interim hearings and instead focus on finally determining the case as early as possible. This is reflected in the limitation on the number of interlocutory applications that may be filed to 2 per party.
Dispute resolution refers to a range of services designed to help you resolve disputes arising from separation or divorce, and improve your relationship with the other parties. Dispute resolution can be conducted at the court by a Judicial Registrar, or by an external service or mediator/Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner.
Dispute resolution at the court includes a conciliation conference or dispute resolution conference.
You and your former partner can be seen separately if you have any safety or risk concerns, including family violence. These conferences may also be conducted electronically.
A conciliation conference is a dispute resolution event for financial proceedings conducted by a Judicial Registrar, highly trained in mediation and dispute resolution.
Dispute resolution conference
A dispute resolution conference is conducted in parenting proceedings, and may be undertaken by a Judicial Registrar with assistance from a Court Child Expert, who are experienced family dispute resolution practitioners. Conferences vary in length and may last a number of hours.
Judicial settlement conference
A Judicial Settlement Conference is a dispute resolution event where the Judge mediates the dispute between the parties in a confidential setting.
A Judicial Settlement Conference will only be conducted as a last resort in particular cases when other forms of dispute resolution have been unsuccessful, but may be ordered at the discretion of the Court.
Court Children’s Service interviews and reports
A judicial officer may order the parties and their children to attend upon a Court Child Expert or Regulation 7 Family Consultant for the preparation of a family consultant’s report. There are a number of different reports that may be ordered, including a Child Impact Report, Specific Issues Report, Addendum Report or a Family Report. For more information, see Court Children’s Service.
Compliance and readiness hearing
If dispute resolution is unsuccessful or there are still outstanding issues in dispute, the case will be listed for a Compliance and Readiness Hearing conducted in most cases by a Judge. The purpose of this hearing is to ensure the parties have complied with all court orders and directions and are ready to proceed to a final hearing. The parties are required to complete a Certificate of Readiness prior to this event.
Trial management hearing
After your case is listed for final hearing before a Judge, the Judge may list the case for a Trial Management Hearing to make further directions for the conduct of the final hearing and ensure it is ready to proceed.
A final hearing is the final determination of the case by a Judge.
The duration of a final hearing will vary from 1 day to several days depending on the complexity and number of issues in dispute.
At the final hearing, each party (or their legal representative) presents their case to the judge. This includes:
- an opening address – in which a party tells the judge about their case
- giving of evidence – including the parties, and their witnesses, being available for cross-examination by the other party or parties, and
- argument – where the party makes submissions to the Court about the evidence and the law.
After the final hearing, the judge will make a decision and deliver reasons for judgment. This may be on the same day, or if they need more time to consider the case, they will reserve their decision and deliver it at a later date. This will usually be within 3 months of the final hearing. The Court will contact you when the judge is ready to deliver their decision.
A directions hearing is a procedural hearing where a Registrar or a Judge may discuss a matter with the parties and make orders about how the matter will proceed. Common reasons a migration application might be listed for a directions hearing include:
- the parties have a dispute about how to get the matter ready for hearing;
- the Court wishes to discuss something with the parties;
- it has been a long time since the application was filed or since the matter was last before the Court; or
- the applicant has left Australia with no right of return or has not responded to important correspondence.
Summary dismissal hearing
A migration application may be listed for a summary dismissal hearing if the Minister’s lawyers ask the Court to summarily dismiss the application. At a summary dismissal hearing, the Minister’s lawyers must show that the application has no reasonable prospects of success, is frivolous or vexatious, or is an abuse of the process of the Court. You will have an opportunity to argue that your case should not be summarily dismissed and should be allowed to go to a final hearing.
At a final hearing, the Judge will hear your arguments and the Minister’s lawyers’ arguments. If you have a lawyer representing you, you usually do not need to speak at the hearing. If you are representing yourself, you will need to explain what you say the decision-maker did wrong, and the Judge may ask you questions about your case.
It is important to note that at each hearing, orders will be made. Court orders can be made:
- by consent of the parties, or
- by decision of a judge or judicial registrar.
If you and the other party or parties reach an agreement on the day, or in the lead up to the hearing, you can present the signed agreement to the judge or judicial registrar and ask that the orders be made by consent. Consent orders can be interim (temporary) or final. If you cannot reach an agreement, the judge will make any orders necessary for your case to proceed to the next court event.
When an order is made, each person bound by the order must comply with it.
The Court will notify you on how your matter will be heard, for example in person or a remote hearing.
First court date (directions hearing)
When you initiate your case in the Court, the documents you file will be stamped with a date for the first ‘directions hearing’. This is usually the first time that people involved in a case appear in court.
Your directions hearing may only take a short while – 15 minutes or less. The purpose of the hearing is to work out the timing of your matter, not to hear the substantial facts of the case. You may be asked how long you think the final hearing will take. This allows the Court to schedule your final hearing.
In addition to possibly setting the date for a final hearing, the Court may, on this date:
- give directions (instructions on the next step/s that are required in a case), including directions to attend mediation or other dispute resolution
- approve proposed consent orders (either provided to the Court before the hearing or at the hearing)
- if time permits, conduct an interim hearing (a short hearing about an urgent or defined issue) and make interim orders
- make final orders for certain types of applications, and
- give directions of steps to be taken in preparation for the final hearing, including setting deadlines for filing and serving documents.
The first court date also provides the parties with an opportunity to define the issues that are in dispute and, if possible, reach an agreement.
It is likely that your case will be just one of many listed at the same time. This is sometimes known as a ‘duty list’. The way in which judges or judicial registrars conduct a duty list will vary. Some judges and judicial registrars may call through the list alphabetically or in numerical order. Others may ask for matters to be ‘stood down’ and deal with consent matters or applications for adjournment first. In any event, the judge or judicial registrar will call through all the cases in the list. If you are unsure, ask the associate before the duty list starts.
If your case is ‘stood down’, it means that it is put on hold for a short time and the Court will deal with your case later that day. This gives you an opportunity to negotiate, define the issues in dispute and, possibly reach an agreement with the other party. This is different from an adjournment. If your case is adjourned, it will be postponed to another day.
In some matters, such as Fair Work small claims and consumer credit small claims, the first court date is likely to be the only court date, and the matter will be heard (and probably decided) on this date.
Further directions hearing
In addition to the hearing on the first court date, you will sometimes have to attend court for a further directions hearing, especially if a considerable time has passed since you were first in court and things have evolved in your case. The Court will make the same kinds of orders as it made on the first court date, such as directions on the next steps to be taken, including a possible direction to attend mediation.
Interlocutory hearings deal with specific issues that need to be determined before the final hearing. For example, an interlocutory hearing may be scheduled if a party applies for:
- interim relief (such as an injunction – an urgent order to stop someone doing something)
- procedural matters (such as ordering a party to give the other party documents), and
- security for costs (if the Court thinks that you may not be able to pay the other party's costs if you lose the case, the Court may order that you deposit money with the Court or provide security, such as a bank guarantee).
At the final hearing or trial, each party presents their case. In most matters, witnesses will be called to give their evidence and may be cross-examined. If a witness has given evidence by affidavit, they will not have to give the evidence again, but they may be cross-examined on their evidence.
The judge or judicial registrar usually asks the applicant to outline their case first. Following this and any cross-examination of witnesses by the respondent, the respondent outlines their case, and their witnesses may be cross-examined by the applicant. The parties then make any final comments or legal arguments in support of their case.
The judge may ask questions or interrupt you. Listen carefully and answer as clearly as you can. If the judge says something is not relevant, move on to your next point.
You cannot interrupt the other party with an objection unless it is about a matter of law. If you do have a legal objection, stand and tell the judge of your objection.
The length of the final hearing will depend on the facts of the case.
After hearing the case, the judge may make orders and give reasons for their decision. Ask for the orders to be repeated if you missed any. If you do not understand any of the orders, ask the judge to explain them once they have finished speaking. Once finalised, your orders will be signed and sealed electronically, and you can download them from the Commonwealth Courts Portal. For a step-by-step guide to accessing orders, see How do I access orders?
Sometimes, a judge may reserve or hold over their decision for another time or date. In such a case, the Court will let you know when the decision has been made, and you must attend court when the decision is handed down. The decision will include the orders made and the reasons for the decision.