What do the recent Federal Circuit Court and Family Court merger mean for parties in parenting disputes?

25-October-2021 Family Law

On 1 September 2021, the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia merged to form a single Court, now called the Fed­er­al Cir­cuit and Fam­i­ly Court of Aus­tralia (‘the Court’). The merger resulted in new Com­mon­wealth legislation and significant changes to case management and procedures.  Streeterlaw Accredited Specialist Family Lawyer Simone Green, explains 3 key changes to the Family Law system and how those changes will impact cases involving children.

1. Merged Court

  • Single point of entry for all applications
  • Focus on refining and limiting issues in dispute through increased early participation of judicial officers through triage and case management
  • Focus on multiple alternative dispute resolution pathways prior to listing for hearing
  • Hearings within 12 months of the Application being filed

2. National Contravention List

  • A new discrete hearing list to quickly and efficiently address allegations of breaches of Court Orders
  • Allocation of the first court date within 14 days allowing the Court to deal with the issues while current.
  • Enforced compliance with relevant legal obligations, orders and directions.
  • Penalties for non-compliance including fines, costs orders or adjustment to parenting orders.

3. Greater role for child dispute services

  • Child Impact Reports (formerly known as Family Reports) may be ordered in parenting disputes, either via the Court’s internal services (Child Dispute Services) or externally via the assistance of a privately funded Court Child Expert such as a psychologist, to provide guidance to the Court for interim hearings and to assist parties to understand the issues and reach agreement wherever possible.
  • The Child Impact Reports provide information about the experiences and needs of children in the context of the dispute before the Court. The Court Child Expert will consider a range of issues such as children’s development, their relationships, and the presence of risk factors (such as family violence), when preparing their Report.
  • The Court may use the internal Child Dispute Services to provide a Court Child Expert (acting in the role of a Family Counsellor) to attend a Family Dispute Resolution Conference with a Judicial Registrar (acting as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP)) to provide the parties with greater assistance in resolving their dispute by . The Court Child Expert in this instance will not be the author of the Child Impact Report.

The new Court structure and procedures place great emphasis on cases progressing promptly, efficiently and with a renewed focus on accountability of parties in meeting their legal obligations before the Court. It is hoped that the introduction of the National Contravention List will reduce the disadvantage of delay for families seeking to enforce Court Orders, and progress the matter towards the goal of final hearing within the 12 month timeframe. A quicker resolution of disputes will hopefully result in improved outcomes for families within the Court system, financially and emotionally.

If you have questions about the impact of the recent Court merger to you and your circumstances, please call and speak with one of our experienced team of Specialist Family Lawyers on 02 8197 0105.

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