10 October 2023
Since 1 March 2020, the Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Parramatta registries of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) have run the highly successful Priority Property Pool under $500,000 Pilot (PPP500). In this pilot, cases with asset pools of under $500,000 were carefully case managed by registrars to ensure they were able to progress quickly to dispute resolution conferences or, if necessary, a timely and streamlined trial.
The pilot has been positively evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies which noted:
- the model was a quicker and more efficient way to assist parties with modest pools resolve financial matters;
- over the period of the pilot approximately 78% of cases were managed and finalised by registrars within approximately 5 months of filing, freeing up considerable judicial time;
- the model yielded favourable social return on investment and social value outcomes for parties including improvements in their financial wellbeing;
- vulnerable parties including those with allegations or evidence of family violence accessed quick settlement outcomes, or pathways to judicial determination where required.
As a result of the sustained success of this focussed, cost-effective case management by Judicial Registrars, the Courts have received funding from the Commonwealth Government to expand the initiative to all filing registries. The criteria for inclusion as a PPP Case has also been expanded to afford a greater number of parties access to this case management model.
From 30 October 2023 a matter will be eligible to be designated a Priority Property Pool Case (PPP Case) where:
- the Initiating Application seeks only financial relief (ie alteration of property interests and/or spouse maintenance only); and
- involves either:
- an asset pool with a total value of up to $550,000 (excluding superannuation) or
- an asset pool which has a value greater than $550,000 (excluding superannuation) but the Court, in its discretion, designates the matter as a PPP Case having regard to relevant features including family violence, limited complexity and/or risk of disproportionate costs or delay.
Full details about which matters are eligible to be designated as PPP Cases can be found on the Courts’ website. Practitioners are expected to be familiar with these criteria and to discuss them with parties prior to preparing material for filing.
Note: If the Applicant identifies that the pool is less than $550,000 (excluding superannuation) the following must be filed:
- Initiating Application;
- Genuine Steps Certificate; and
- PPP Case Financial Summary in the prescribed form. A new form will be available for use from 30 October with a grace period for use of the old form until 31 December 2023.
In those circumstances there is no requirement to file an Affidavit, Financial Statement or Questionnaire (Financial) as otherwise required under the Family Law Rules 2021, although matters in which those documents are filed will still be considered for designation as a PPP Case.
At the time of filing, all applicants will be guided, via the Commonwealth Courts Portal, to consider whether the case involves a pool of under $550,000 (excluding superannuation) and, if so, will be informed that the proceedings may be commenced by filing only the documents listed above.
Alternatively: If the pool has a value of $550,000 (excluding superannuation) or more, the Applicant must file the initiating material as required by the Rules and the court retains the capacity to designate the matter as a PPP Case.
Regardless of what material is filed, Judicial Registrars will assess all financial applications within two business-days of filing and, where the matter meets the PPP Cases criteria, will commence the focussed case management process. This will include making chambers orders in relation to:
- valuations and associated costs
- filing of family violence protection orders or applications
- preparation for the first court event
Compliance with those orders is expected and will be closely monitored.
The cases will continue to be proactively managed by the Judicial Registrar so that issues can be narrowed and the matter can proceed to productive and safe dispute resolution conferences as soon as possible. Conferences with Judicial Registrars will be prioritised and eligible parties may also be referred to legal aid conferences. Private mediation and/or arbitration will remain available to parties who are in a position to meet the associated costs.
The approach to case management for PPP cases will allow registrars to quickly identify and address any issues relating to lack of disclosure or failure to meaningfully negotiate. This will actively reduce the opportunity for non-compliant parties to engage in systems abuse or otherwise frustrate the finalisation of matters where costs and delays can be ill afforded.
Where matters cannot be resolved at a dispute resolution conference the registrar will discuss other means of finalising issues in dispute in a timely and cost-effective way. This will include speaking with the parties about the benefits of arbitration and/or short form final hearings.
The Court looks forward to working with the profession in this expanded PPP case model. Brochures in relation to the management of PPP Cases, Frequently Asked Questions and other relevant information will be made available on the Courts' website prior to commencement.