As of 1 September 2021, The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia will merge to become the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA).
This change is designed to create a new court that is “innovative, fair and efficient and focuses on risk, responsiveness and resolution” (Media release). It promises to resolve up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months, where possible, improve early risk identification and access to justice for vulnerable parties and encourage more innovative alternatives to the court to lessen costs for parties.
You can expect a new set of harmonised rules from extensive consultation with the profession and other stakeholders, which will be voted on sometime in August. There will also be 14 new practice directions to accompany these rules, as they commence 1 September 2021.
With the introduction of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) comes the introduction of new Appeal processes.
The FCFCOA division 1 will retain the jurisdiction to hear family law appeals. Division 1 Judges will also be able to hear appeals either as a single judge or as part of the Full Court.
In Western Australia, all division 2 appeals and family law Magistrates of Western Australia decisions will be heard by a single judge unless considered appropriate by the Chief Justice to be heard by a Full Court.
There is no longer a separate Appeal division.
There will also be a new national appeals filing registry to enable a centralised and consistent method for filing an appeal.
The new case management pathway
This new case management pathway is designed to move cases through the family law system as quickly and fairly as possible with the intention of as little detrimental impact on families and children as possible.
The system is designed to identify risk and safety at the beginning of each case, with as many opportunities for alternative dispute resolution where safe to do so as possible. Where matters cannot be resolved with dispute resolution, trials will be listed earlier than previously experienced.
There will be increased involvement of Senior Registrars, Registrars and Family Consultants early on in these processes to alleviate the workload on judges and ensure that they can “hear and determine trials and deliver judgments in the matters that require judicial attention as quickly and efficiently as possible” (Media release).
The first court event will occur within 6-8 weeks of filing with an expectation that parties should be at mediation or dispute resolution within six months of filing. Trials are to commence where possible within 12 months of filing if necessary, with a hope to reduce up to 90% of cases within the system.
The Commonwealth Government facilitates these changes with over $100 million in new funding.
As of 1 September 2021, all decisions regarding matters in the old court system will be moved into this new pathway. They will remain listed unless otherwise advised.
Court Improvements on Compliance with Orders
As of 1 September 2021, as part of the new rollout of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) comes the introduction of a National Contravention List.
This list is intended to address alleged breaches of court orders and efficiently deal with applications on a national basis in a timely, cost-effective, and safe way for all litigants.
It will provide all applications with a first return date within 14-days of filing and ensure compliance with court orders by all parties.
The introduction will impose appropriate penalties or sanctions where a contravention has been proved and where a party has failed to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for non-compliance with orders.
It will also triage matters where possible to dispute resolution to resolve matters without additional litigation.
Its effect on child dispute services and family consultants
As part of the introduction of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA), there will be changes to Child Dispute Services.
The FCFCOA is introducing a more fulsome report called the Child Impact Report, designed to replace the section 11F assessment process.
This aims to assist parties in reaching an agreement where possible and provide guidance to the court for interim hearings.
Where matters reach the trial stage, the current family report model will remain available but with additional options available. This includes reports concerning specific issues and addendum reports to build on the original Child Impact Report.
Family Consultants will now be known as Court Child Experts.
Child Dispute Services will now be known as the Court Children’s Service.