Australian Family Law

How the family law changes 2021 affect you

On 1 September 2021, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia merged. This created the re-named Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) and a new streamlined process for the first time in 20 years.

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If you currently have a family law matter in motion, it’s important to understand what’s changed. The good news is that the family law changes made in 2021 are positively impacting both the family law system and the people in it.

A faster, simplified system

One of the main benefits of the new system is that the Court’s focus is to have the majority of matters finalised within one year, thanks to the simplification of procedures. This is a much shorter timeframe than those involved in a family law matter previously experienced.

It also means quicker resolution of matters and less stress and negative impact on families, particularly children. The Court’s overarching purpose is to facilitate just resolution of disputes according to law, as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.

Two divisions in the Court

There new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has two divisions:

  • Division 1 – This is a continuation of the Family Court of Australia, with 35 specialist family law judges hearing both trials and appeals.
  • Division 2 – This is a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia with 76 judges.

The main system changes

The main changes in the family law system have been the implementation of new:

  • Rules – There’s now a single set of harmonised rules, including guidelines for the management of family law proceedings in Court and additional resources and case management
  • Forms – All existing court forms have been updated where required
  • Processes – A nationally consistent case management pathway as follows: First court event, interim hearing (if required), dispute resolution (either agree of resolve or go to next), compliance and readiness hearing either agree of resolve or go to next), trial management hearing if required, final hearing
  • Resources – Judicial registrars will have increased duties and roles at the start of proceedings. This is designed to alleviate the burden on judges so that they can spend more time on consideration and determination

You can find more information on these changes on the Court’s new website.

New focus on dispute resolution

One critical shift within these changes is the Court’s focus on dispute resolution.

The Court now expects parties to participate in dispute resolution in an attempt to resolve the matter without having to go to Court. However, there are some exemptions, such as family violence and other matters of urgency. 

The Court also has the power to make a ‘costs order’ against a party if they don’t participate in dispute resolution. In addition, there are several actions that must be undertaken before going to Court.

Application of the change

The new rules apply to all fresh proceedings from 1 September 2021. All existing court matters before either court will be subject to the new rules. However, judges can decide whether they must be complied with to the same degree as the newer post-1 September 2021 matters.

It’s important at any stage of the process to understand the impact of the new Court on you and your matter. Please feel free to call us on 0434 305 028 to chat about this change and how it affects you in more detail.

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