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Litigation - What to Expect on Your First Court Date

Most of us would never have been to court for any reason. The breakdown of your relationship is difficult enough without having to attend court. Here are some tips to help you minimise the stress of your first court appearance.

Know Where You Need To Go

Know which court you need to attend. The court application will mostly likely have been filed in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) or the local Magistrates Court. You should know the date, time and address of where you need to be.

Dress Appropriately

You will most likely be appearing before a judge, magistrate or registrar of the court who will have the power to make an order in relation to your matter. You should be clean and wear clothing appropriate for if you were attending a job interview.

Be On Time

You should arrive at court about an hour before the time your matter is listed before the court. This enables you enough time to find out which court or conference room your matter is taking place in. You will need to report to a court officer that you have arrived and are ready to appear.

What To Bring With You

  • a copy of the court documents that were filed by you and a copy of the court documents that were filed by your former spouse or partner.
  • a notepad and a pen to record what happens and any orders or directions made by the court.
  • a friend or family member to support you on the day.

Take The Day Off Work

You should ensure that you have the entire day to focus on your matter. This includes taking leave from your work and making arrangements for the care of your children. You do not want to be under any time constraints and therefore feel rushed to make any important decisions.

Often there may be delays in your matter being dealt with by the court as your matter may not be the only matter that the court needs to deal with. The waiting time for your matter to be dealt with can be used to negotiate issues with your former spouse/partner.

Know Why You Are Appearing In Court

You should know why you are in court that day. Knowing about why you are in court will help you understand what outcomes can happen from the first court event. The first court event is usually one of the following:

  • Directions hearing – This is where the court wants to find out about your matter and how the court can best manage how your matter progresses. The directions orders made by the court depends on the type of matter (e.g parenting or property) and if any interim procedural orders are required to be made; or
  • Case assessment conference – If your matter is in the Family Court ( as opposed to the Federal Circuit Court or the Magistrates’ Court) then your matter will be listed before a registrar of the Family Court to enable the court to assess details of the case. For instance, the registrar may order for assets such as the family home to be valued by a registered valuer for property matters or for a family report to be done for a parenting matter. This should also be the first opportunity for you and your former partner/spouse to see if you can resolve your matter without the need of a decision from the court; or
  • Interim hearing – You or your former partner/spouse may have asked the court to make an interim order. For instance, you may have asked to live in the former relationship home without your partner/spouse or for future living arrangements for your children. If your matter is in the Family Court then you may be appearing before a Family Court judge for an interim property order, or the senior registrar of the Family Court for an interim parenting order. If your matter is in the Federal Circuit Court or the Magistrates’ Court for a property or parenting matter, then you will be appearing before a Federal Circuit judge if your matter is in the Federal Circuit Court, or a magistrate if before the Magistrates’ Court . It is important to note that if the court (Family Court, Federal Circuit Court or Magistrates Court) makes an interim order then it will most likely also make directions orders as well about how your matter is to proceed; or
  • Divorce hearing – You or your former spouse may have filed a court application asking for an order to end your marriage. Your divorce hearing will most likely take place before a registrar of the Federal Circuit Court.

Appearing Before A Judge, Magistrate Or Registrar In Court

  • If your matter is before a judge, magistrate or registrar, then you should wait in the court room until your matter is called to be dealt with. When the judge enters the room, you must stand up until the judge, magistrate or registrar is seated and ready to begin;
  • When your matter is called by the court officer you will need to stand at the “bar table” before the judge, magistrate or registrar;
  • Whenever you speak to a judge or magistrate then you refer to him or her as “Your Honour” and when you speak to a registrar then you refer to him or her as “Your Registrar”;
  • The judge, magistrate or registrar may have what is called a “call over” to work out what matters need to be dealt with that day and the order in which his or her honour will deal with the matters;
  • You should always listen to what the judge, magistrate or registrar is saying.

Appearing Before A Registrar In A Case Assessment Conference

If your matter is before a registrar for a case assessment conference then you should wait in the conference room or waiting area.

The registrar will attend upon you and your former spouse/partner and invite you to the allocated conference room.

Whenever you speak to a registrar then you refer to him or her as “Registrar”.

Attending court is stressful and most likely daunting. Having competent legal representation will help relieve stress and ensure a faster result in your matter.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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