Changes to the Family Court in Australia

Legislation effective 1 September has substantially changed the courts that administer family law.

Whilst the substantive law has not greatly changed, there have been important changes of practice and procedure to bring the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Federal Circuit Court) and the Family Court of Australia (the Family Court) together into an overarching, unified administrative structure to be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA). The intent behind these changes is improve the processing of cases rather than changing their outcomes.

The FCFCA will have two divisions; Division 1 will replicate the Family Court of Australia, and Division 2 will replicate the Federal Circuit Court.

How it will work

All family law cases will now start in Division 2, so there will be a single-entry point.  Cases will be dealt with in Division 2 unless they are transferred to Division 1.

Appeals will go to Division 1, to be heard by a single Division 1 judge unless the Chief Justice considers it appropriate for the appeal to be heard by a Full Court.  All Division 1 judges will be able to hear appeals; there will no longer be an Appeal Division.

A new approach to procedure and practice?

It is anticipated that the new court will deal forcefully with procedural matters by introducing (a) a National Contravention List (with a new Practice Direction) to ensure all parties comply with Court orders, and that alleged breaches are taken seriously and dealt with quickly, and (b) enforcing an overarching principle to resolve disputes quickly, efficiently and proportionately.

Of course, what impact this principle will have in practice will depend largely on the approach of the judges, led by a Chief Justice for both Division 1 and Division 2.

The primary documents are the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 (the ‘main Act’) and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act and the Explanatory Memorandum to the Act which spells out the intentions behind the legislation. All these documents can be found at the Federal Register of Legislation: https://www.legislation.gov.au/.

Support materials can be found on the website of the new Court (fcfcoa.gov.au), and on the websites of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and the Attorney-General’s Department.

If you need legal assistance as a result of a relationship breakdown, our family law team can provide straightforward and prompt advice, taking away the worry and putting your interests first.

Julian Roffe

Practice Manager

Ezra Legal

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