Paula Phelan is a Family Lawyer with Specialist Accreditation in this area from the Queensland Law Society. She has been a lawyer for 26 years and is the director of Phelan Family Law, a Rockhampton legal firm specialising in Family Law only.
The past few weeks have seen major changes to the family law system of Australia. As of the 1st of September, the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia officially merged to become the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA).
What does this mean for you?
The main objective of the new Family Court system is to “facilitate the just resolution of disputes according to law and as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible”. The Court aims to resolve 90% of matters within a year of the Court proceedings commencing.
Perhaps the biggest and most important change is the expansion of the compulsory pre-action procedures to all family law disputes.
Parents may already be familiar with the requirement to attend Family Dispute Resolution before Court proceedings can be commenced for matters concerning the parenting arrangements for your children.
Under the new Rules, before starting Court proceedings for either property or parenting matters, parties must make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute through mediation. For property matters, offers to settle are to be exchanged before informing the other party of an intention to file proceedings.
The new Rules also introduce a greater emphasis on the early exchange of all relevant documents for both property and parenting matters. This is designed to help identify and resolve the issues that are in dispute before Court proceedings are commenced.
It is important to note that there are exemptions to the mediation requirements if the Court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that there has been child abuse and/or family violence; that there is a risk of family violence and/or there is a risk of child abuse if there were to be a delay.
To assist with the objective of resolving matters faster, the Court has appointed new Judicial Registrars who have been given additional power to make decisions in matters filed with the Court . When you go to Court for the first time, you will now have your matter attended to by a Judicial Registrar. This additional staffing is to free up the Judges for complex matters or matters that require a final hearing.
In recent years, due to the impacts of the pandemic, we have all learned to utilise technology to conduct business and connect with family and friends. The new Court has also embraced technology and many matters will be conducted over the internet using Microsoft Teams. It is hoped that this will create further efficiencies through the sharing of the caseloads around the various Court locations.
As with all change, there will need to be a period of time to get used to how the new Court will operate and navigating the new Rules. The aim of the changes is to help people who are going through separation reach agreement earlier and without the cost and expense of litigation. If you have a matter currently before the new FCFCOA, you may like to access the website to review the changes and how they will apply to you – www.fcfcoa.gov.au