Family law: Hearing types

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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.

Directions hearing

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.

Interim hearing

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

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.

Conciliation conference

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.

Final hearing

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.