In 2018 the Australian Government announced major reforms to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Beginning 1 January 2019, these courts are being merged into one – the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA). The FCFCA will be comprised of two Divisions – the first Division will be the Family Court and the second Division the Federal Circuit Court, which will deal with both family law and general federal law matters.
This restructuring was implemented in response to lengthy wait times in the family law system. It aims to improve the efficiency and increase the speed of resolving the large number of family law disputes that comes before the Courts. Whether the restructuring actually achieves these goals is yet to be seen.
But what does this mean for you?
In effect, this is an administrative merger. There will be a common set of Rules and forms for both Divisions that will be rewritten from existing court rules. The aim is to achieve consistency within the two Courts. This is a good thing as very often there has been confusion about how different Rules apply across the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.
Under the restructure, the Family Court division will not have substantial appellate jurisdiction. This reallocates judicial resources to hearing first instance family law matters. Appeals will be heard by a single judge, rather than a 3-judge bench. Some worry about how this will impact family appeals moving forward.
What if you’re currently before the Courts?
If you have a matter currently before the Courts, there will be transitional arrangements put in place.
What does the future hold for the new Division 1 Family Court?
The Attorney-General has said that this Division will, in time, fully merge with Division 2. No new judges will be appointed, and the Federal Court judges in Division 2 are not required to have the same family law expertise that previous Family Law and now Division 1 judges have. Whether or not the new FCFCA will be the saving grace the Government promises remains to be seen.