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The Family Law Courts Are Merging…But When Will We Get More Judges?

We are Merging… but when we will get more Judges?

Major overhaul of the Family Law Courts to take effect on 1 January 2019.

This morning Attorney General Christian Porter has announced significant changes to our family law court system to take effect from 1 January 2019. From this date a new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) will be established by combining the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The Appeals Division will then be known as the Family Law Appeal Division (FLAD) in the Federal Court to hear FCFCA matters and also some appeals from the Family Court of Western Australia.

There will now be FCFCA Division 1 and FCFCA Division 2.

The major reasons for the significant overhaul and amalgamation of the two Courts come as significant backlogs continue to grow as families await a final hearing. Whilst the examples of timeframes provided by the Attorney-General for delay indicate the national median to be somewhere between 15.2 months in the current Federal Circuit Court and 17 months in the current Family Court of Australia, many practitioners will tell you of waiting times far exceeding.

Also, the current protocol of division of work between the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia provide for Judges, on an application by any party, or on their own volition to transfer cases between the Courts. There is no right of Appeal from these decisions, and it effectively places the matter at the starting gates at the new Court, despite already waiting many months in the initial Court. Also, the Courts operate on different Rules.

A major factor for the reason to amalgamate the Courts is the overlapping of work between the Courts in the family law jurisdiction which results in confusion of where a matter may best be suited. Further, the proposed reforms reduce the current Appeal Judges work, to allow them to spend time hearing cases at first instance.

The benefits of the reforms as professed by the Attorney General:

  • Efficient in the federal family law system, estimating to allow an additional 8,000 cases to be resolved each and every year
  • Finalising an additional 3,500 family law matters each and every year
  • A combined and single case management structure to result in more matters being finalised per year.
  • Better management of Appeals resulting in more matters being finalised per year.

Whilst the reforms are theoretical at this stage, we shall wait and see whether they have any real impact into the efficiency of the Court and reducing the backlog. There has been lobbying for many years for additional judges. These reforms are silent on the number of judges and in fact now require the current Federal Circuit Court judges to also hear General Federal Law matters. The judges of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court are specialised judges in family law. The recent Callovers in the major Capital Cities called over thousands of cases in a blitz heard over a week in each Registry. What was achieved? Many cases were pulled off the shelves of lawyers and given some attention, but was it meaningful? Most practitioners will tell you that each case was ‘forced’ to mediation and in some cases in inappropriate circumstances, or despite already attempting mediation on numerous occasions prior. Some cases just need a judicial determination.

It is unclear what effect this will have on the Registrars of the Court and their role in managing cases.

So the reforms still beg the question, when we will we get more Judges?

The reforms are proposed and are subject to legislation being provided to Parliament and passage through Parliament.

Stay tuned…

If you need assistance to navigate your way around the family law jurisdiction, contact one of our family lawyers.

Image Credit – Sebnem Regiboglu ©

Written by Natasha Heathcote on May 30, 2018

Natasha has a strong passion for family law, and believes that the law can be used to achieve positive resolutions for her clients. When working with clients, Natasha shows compassion and first seeks to understand what is important to her clients, then looks for legal solutions that will best suit them. View Natasha's profile

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