When two become one – The impending merger of the Family and Federal Circuit Court and what this could mean for separated families

The Federal Government recently announced that the Family and Federal Circuit Courts of Australia will soon be merged in an attempt to slash blown-out waiting times and reduce trauma for families.

Both courts have power to decide family law disputes, however the Family Court is reserved for more complex family law matters such as, valuation of interests in trusts or corporate structures, matters that involve a child welfare agency, allegations of sexual or physical abuse or international relocation of children.

The Federal Circuit was originally established to deal with the shorter, simpler family law matters, freeing up the Family Court.   In addition to hearing family law matters, the Federal Circuit Court is also responsible for hearing general matters such as administrative law, bankruptcy, industrial law and migration.

Presently in Brisbane, there are 4 Family Court judges and 11 Federal Circuit Court judges.  The merger will see judges from the Family Court hear family law matters, while Federal Circuit Court judges will continue to hear family and general matters.  Over time however, all judges will hear both family and general law cases.

Statistics released show that the median time taken to reach a trial has grown in both courts, with a national average of 15 months in the Federal Circuit Court and 17 months in the Family Court.

Often times, a matter may commence in the Federal Circuit court but issues arise that deem the matter complex, meaning the matter will be transferred to the Family Court.  Once transferred between courts, a matter does not ‘skip the queue’ of matters awaiting court dates.  It is allocated a date alongside all other matters filed in court that day, irrespective of the matter having been in the court system for months already.  With over 1,200 matters transferred between the two courts each year, the consequence is a delay in the progression and resolution of matters and invariably a ‘double up’ in legal fees.

Attorney-General Christian Porter says the merging of the two courts will “remove the red tape that drags out complex trials and will have the potential in time to allow up to an extra 8000 cases to be resolved each and every year.”

The merger will also result in there now being one set of court rules and unified practices and procedures in place, making it not only easier for the increasing number of self-represented litigants that appear before the courts every day, but providing more certainty as to possible court outcomes.

For confidential advice and assistance about your family law situation, contact Accredited Specialist in family law, Tuskeen Jacobs of Rostron Carlyle Rojas Lawyers at [email protected] or 07 3009 8444.

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