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Home | Blog | Changes to Family Law courts

The merge of the courts

On 30 May 2018 the Attorney-General announced the merge of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia within an 8 month turnover. This comes after much review of the backlogs within the court system and the reality of clients being told that they will need to wait at least 18 months to expect a final hearing date.

The family law domain is currently comprised of 2 courts. The Family Court is exclusive to family law cases of both property and parenting of serious and complex natures. They often involve allegations of child abuse, complex financial agreements where there are trusts, companies or bankruptcy debts involved and prolonged family disputes. The Federal Circuit deals with the remaining matters. This reform seeks to abolish the two and merge them into one and the manner in which it is to be done seeks vigilance. It will also mean that appeals from this new court will be heard by the Federal Court.

It is understood that the purpose of such a transition after so many years is to create a more efficient process that is streamlined so that a excess of cases are cleared. In doing so, it will mean families will spend less time trapped within the court system and in turn the enormous amount of legal fees spent will be reduced. Such “improvement” as suggested by the Attorney-General will mean that there will only be 1 set of rules, forms and procedures to be followed. Whilst many if not all clients bounced through the system would agree with such a proposal, the way it would work seeks to merge the specialised complex matters of the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Circuit Court is already flooded with cases and substantial waiting periods.  As Peter Rose, QC, Former Family Court Judge vocalizes “collapsing complex family law matters, which are the most important matters that our court system deals with — the care of children and relationship ­issues” into a unified system must be exercised with a degree of caution. Expanding the jurisdiction may seem simplistic on paper, however time will tell if such merge goes ahead as to whether it will actually achieve the results it intends to.

It further begs the question with the recent change in Prime Minister earlier last week, will the current government back the merge or is this still a process that needs the proper mechanics prior to being road tested? The Attorney-General has assured the nation that the unified structure will free up internal resources to be allocated and further funding of $4 million is to be hosed into the system.  Whilst the waters remain murky in this regard, Judges in both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court are continuing to allocate trial dates for families in 2019 despite their lengthy dockets.

Accredited specialists in Family Law

The faults of the court system remind us that taking a property or parenting matter to court really is the last resort. Turner Freeman’s family law team led by an Accredited Specialist can guide you through the processes of working through your parenting or property matter with and without the need of the court’s assistance. To speak to a Family Law solicitor, call our Parramatta office on (02) 8833 2500 or speak to someone via our web chat today.

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