One Big Happy Family Court

On Tuesday 29 May Attorney-General Christian Porter announced a plan to amalgamate the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia which will become the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA).

A new Family Law Appeal Division of the Federal Court of Australia will also be established to hear all appeals in family law matters from the FCFCA and the Family Court of Western Australia.

What does this mean for family law matters in Western Australia?

While there has been a lot of hype regarding the joining of the two Courts, these new changes will not apply to Western Australia as the Family Court of Western Australia is actually a hybrid of both federal and state jurisdiction.  Western Australia chose to operate its own state court when the other states referred their powers to the Commonwealth.

Western Australia does not have a Federal Circuit Court.

The Family Court of Western Australia deals with married couples (federal jurisdiction) and de facto couples (state jurisdiction). 

The only affect of the new FCFCA in Western Australia will be in relation to the appeal process.

Why the change?

Litigants were becoming frustrated in having to weave between the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court which was allegedly slowing down the resolution process and exacerbating the trauma of a family break down, especially for children.

The number of family law matters in the Family Law courts has grown from 17,000 to 21,000 and the average time for a family law matter to reach trial has increased significantly with 22,000 with matters being listed for final hearing every year.

People are waiting up to three years or more in the Family Court to finalise cases which involve children, property and violence.

Under the new reform

One is the magic number under the new plan which will come into effect 1 January 2019.

There will be one court for federal family law matters, one Chief Justice and one Deputy Chief Justice of the FCFCA.  Division one will include the existing judges of the Family Court of Australia and Division two will include the existing judges of the Federal Circuit Court.

Both the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice will oversee both Divisions.

The reform will also see one simple practice direction, procedure, rules and process.

The new Court will aim to reduce the backlog of matters before the Family Law courts in the eastern states.