Ding Dong – the Family Court is dead!

29-November-2018 Family Law By Simone Green

Streeterlaw explains the biggest changes to Family Law in Australia since 1975.

Radical family law reform sits in the form of two Bills currently before the Federal Parliament being:

  • Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018; and
  • Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018. (‘the Reform Bills’)

The Reform Bills are over 500 pages long (not light reading) and essentially propose the following changes:

  • New name, same game – Despite the cumbersome new and somewhat lacklustre name of Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (FCFC), there will still be 2 separate courts hearing family law matters.
  • Merger:
    • The Family Court of Australia will be abolished and will become “Division 1” of the new FCFC.
    • The Federal Circuit Court exercising Family jurisdiction will be “Division 2” of the new FCFC.
    • As the Family Court will be extinct, there will no longer be an Appeals Division – all appeals will be heard in the Federal Court. Appeals from Division 1 will be heard by 3 judges, Division 2 appeals by a single judge.
      • Essentially this will lead to appeals being heard by judges who do not necessarily have any family law experience.
      • Family Court Judges (as we know them now) are not being replaced. This will lead to a lack of specialist judges hearing family law cases even in the first instance, in the FCFC.
  • There will be one single point of entry when filing an Application in the FCFC. Applications will be triaged in order of complexity with more complex cases being listed in Division 1 and less complex in Division 2.
  • There will be one set of Court rules for the FCFC, currently there are different rules in both courts.

The Attorney General, the Hon. Christian Porter, originally announced a commencement date of the new family law reforms of 1 January 2019, prior to the release of the report of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is due to report to the Senate on the Reform Bills in April 2019, so they will not be available for Senate consideration until after that date. At this stage we do not know when the Reform Bills will commence.

If you already have a case in the Federal Circuit Court of the Family Court, do not panic! The Reform Bills will not change anything for those families currently litigating in either Court. The reforms will only apply to those new cases filed after the Reform Bills are commenced. For the most part, the ‘customers’ will not necessarily notice much of a change when the merger is implemented, and time will tell if the reforms will actually result in shorter wait times and more effective access to ‘justice’.

If you are concerned how the Reform Bills will affect you and your case, we invite you to contact our experienced Family Law team to guide you on the journey by calling 02 8197 0105 or use the below web form.

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