Overview of the changes to Family Law – 10 key things to know.
It isn’t new news that the family law jurisdiction had an overhaul at the end of 2021.
However, after spending the last 18 months making snacks, dancing in little peoples classes and enjoying play dates, I missed out on understanding what that overhaul did and what it means practically. So, I have had to learn and I share what I now know with you.
Whilst I cannot summarise it all – in a nutshell, the purpose of those changes were to simplify, streamline and to make the process easier and more accessible to all persons who find themselves in the family jurisdiction.
The new self-described objective is to resolve family law disputes ‘as quickly, in-expensively and efficiently’ as possible. Theoretics aside, the Court is achieving this as follows:
1. They have simplified the website
If you haven’t already, check out the updated website. It is really, really great. It uses simple language, has a user-friendly layout and is full of so much useful information.
If you are googling Family Law. Stop. Just visit the source. The Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia website is the best place to find reliable, accurate information.
Visit the website here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/
2. DIY Kits and New Forms
Okay, so this isn’t new – but the Court has DIY Kits for things like Consent Orders and Financial Statements.
I refer to these Kits a lot with people that I speak to. That is because they are not just useful for self-represented litigants, but really help explain how best to complete your documents and what information you need to include in your documents, which can assist both you and your lawyer (and therefore reduce your costs).
The Court has also amended some of the forms required to be filed and added additional information to these Kits and the website, such as example Minute of Consent Orders.
3. Matters are continuing to proceed electronically
The Court has been able to respond to the challenges brought about by the pandemic by introducing an electronic way of hearing matters. This will continue and will mean access to the Court for those in remote areas and/or who may be unable to attend Court for medical or safety reasons.
4. They have amalgamated the Courts
The two separate Courts have now become one, with two different divisions. Amalgamating the Courts means that there is one single entry point, one consolidated registry and one set of rules.
5. There are now only one set of rules
The Federal Circuit Court Rules and the Family Court Rules are now the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia Rules.
How does this help?
The one set of rules is intended to simplify how things are done and arguably, make them easier to understand and follow for practitioners and litigants alike.
6. They have built in more steps that parties need to take before commencing proceedings.
There are a whole lot more steps you need to take, more things that need to be done and more things that need to be in place before you can commence proceedings.
Those steps are complicated, and it might seem like more steps means more money and more delays. But not necessarily.
The Court and we, as practitioners, understand the financial and emotional costs, and the significant delays in bringing proceedings before the Court.
By making these additional steps, the Court is really asking you, in matters where it is appropriate and safe to do so – have you tried everything else? Because this should be your last resort.
7. Alternative Dispute Resolution is key
For a long time now parties in parenting matters have, where it is appropriate and safe to do so, been required to participate in Family Dispute Resolution prior to commencing proceedings.
There is now an expectation that parties will participate in Mediation both prior to and during proceedings across all kinds of disputes before the Court.
There is a greater recognition too that ADR is not just about resolving disputes but can also be useful to identify or narrow the issues in dispute before the Court.
ADR is not just Mediation. Arbitration is also one way parties can resolve their dispute outside of the Court.
ADR is efficient, overall more cost effective and allows you to have some ownership and control over the outcome. A win-win.
8. They have issued practice directions
Those directions are intended to set the overarching purpose and framework within which the new rules and Court will operate. The directions set out guidelines or frameworks for the management of family law proceedings in Court.
What the practice directions also do is set the tone and provide clear guidance around what is expected of you when entering the Court jurisdiction.
Clear expectations are important because without them, people are often unclear about what they need to do. With them, it is hoped that we will all be doing what we need to do, to resolve your matter.
9. New Case Management
If you do end up in Court the way in which your matter progresses through the system has changed.
There are clear, identifiable steps a typical matter will take, and this provides a level of clarity around process and, allows the Court to streamline the resolution of matters.
10. They have introduced more quasi-judicial officers
There are now deputy registrars, judicial registrars, and senior judicial registrars as well as judges. Those registrars have been given more authority.
This helps, because it means that a great deal of the procedural Court work, or relatively uncomplicated family law disputes, can be dealt with by the quasi-judicial members of the Court.
This will have the eventual impact of freeing up judicial resources to address the backlog of cases and moving forward, mean a quicker process for those matters more complicated or unable to resolved.
Is it working?
Time will tell. But, for now what I can say is, information that is readily available and easy to understand and act upon, is critical to access to justice and now more than ever, that is being offered. There is also a real shift in tide that we are here to focus on, solutions which are timely, affordable and as the Court describes, ‘smarter’ and what a nice change that is.
Want to know more? The Court has developed three videos which you can watch by visiting the website.
Or you can call us here at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers on 1800 059 278.