A new era in family law started yesterday, 1 September 2021.
While the law remains the same, the way in which we do it changes.
The Federal Circuit Court and Family Law Act 2021 has been passed. The reason for change has been the criticism that the current system is broken, particularly the delay.
The changes have been controversial and criticised but also the subject of much collaboration. Some of the bigger changes are:
Merging of courts
One of the most criticized aspects of the legislation has been the merging of the Family and Federal Circuit Courts. The Family Court was initially to be abolished but has now been retained in a different form and to be known as Division 1 of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Law Act 1975. Division 1 will hear appeals.
Division 2 is the Federal Circuit Court as it exists today.
One of the significant changes is that now there will be one set of rules and one set of forms. Previously there were different forms, pathways and requirements. There will no longer be these differences.
There continues to be a strong focus on encouraging parties to resolve matters by alternate dispute resolution.
Focus on avoiding delay
There is no doubt the current caseload in the court has resulted in very long delays. It can take more than a year from the time the court is told that the matter is ready to trial to even get to trial call over – the court hearing where matters are given court dates which even then are months ahead.
The focus under the new law is to move matters through the system in a strict pathway and timeline.
To do this, the court has empowered court officers other than judges to deal with matters previously managed by judges with the hope that this will free up the judges for those matters requiring judicial focus.
The aim is to resolve 90% of cases in 12 months.
Child risk pathway “Lighthouse project”
When matters are filed, triage is undertaken to identify if children are at risk and those matters are transferred to a special list to be managed.
Failure to comply with court orders.
There is now a new system so that when someone fails to comply with orders, documents can be filed and a court date will be allocated within two weeks. In the old system it could take many months to come before a court once contravention proceedings were filed.
Matters already in the system
Whether matters already in the system are transferred to the new system will be a case by case consideration.
We will keep you up to date about how the new system evolves and what practical difference it makes to family law matters. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have an queries.