New era for Family Courts in Australia

20 September, 2021

Central Coast Families who experience separation and divorce and need to go to Court to resolve their parenting and property issues will now be part of a new merged Family Court system.

On 1 September 2021 the previous two Courts which dealt with Family Law matters (the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) have now been merged into the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

Family Courts in Australia have been struggling with significant delays caused by inadequate funding and many families on the Coast have experience the costs and emotional distress caused by those delays in resolving their parenting arrangements and property matters following separation.

Now for the first time in 21 years, there is a single point of entry, one set of court rules and forms, and a new purpose-built court website. There is a new and consistent approach to case management nationally, where the Court’s Judicial Registrars will triage every case, and assess for risk, soon after they have been filed in the Court. Here on the Central Coast which has one of the highest domestic violence rates in the State, this will help protect vulnerable families and children.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Family Courts swiftly implemented online hearings and these have been relatively successful in keeping matters moving through the system despite the restrictions on movement and extended lockdowns. These innovations will continue to be used as COVID-related restrictions are eased, to ensure improved safety and access to justice for vulnerable parties and people living in regional areas. The new focus of online hearings will help reduce the need for family law litigants on the Central Coast from having to travel to Newcastle, Parramatta or Sydney for hearings and reduce the legal costs due to limited need for travel.

If it is safe to do so, parties in the new Court system will be encouraged to engage with dispute resolution opportunities before, and throughout, the court process. For the cases that are not suitable to resolve by dispute resolution, the Court’s aim over time is to resolve more than 90 per cent of family law matters within 12 months to reduce the time, cost and stress associated with litigation.

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