The Marriage of the Family Law Courts
- August 16, 2021
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Written by Samantha Guo, Trainee Solicitor
On 1 September 2021, the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia will merge to create the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFC). The reform has been in discussions since 2019 and legislation for its merger was passed on 1 March 2021. The highly controversial move will impact the thousands of people who pass through the family law system every year.
How will it work?
There will be two divisions in the FCFC. Division 1 will extend from the Family Court and deal with more complex family matters. Division 2 will extend from the Federal Circuit Court and deal with both family and general federal matters.
The FCFC will retain existing judges from the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. At its leadership, there will be a single Chief Justice and two Deputy Chief Justices.
Division 2 will be the entry point for all family law matters. Subsequently, each matter will be allocated to the most appropriate division. However once allocated, only the Chief Justice will be able to transfer a matter between divisions.
The main benefit of the merger is that there is a single system for all family matters. According to the Federal Government, the merged systems will help to reduce delays and confusions caused by the overlapping jurisdictions of the separate court systems. It is claimed that this new system will improve efficiency and reduce costs.
These reforms have garnered much criticism from practitioners and community groups. A letter of opposition garnered 157 signatures from key stakeholders including eleven retired Family Court and Federal Circuit Court judges.
In particular there has been concern regarding the level of specialist knowledge of the judges. Former Family Court Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson has expressed concern that judges with ‘no real knowledge’ would be presiding over matters leading to longer delays. Furthermore, Angela Lynch from the Women’s Legal Services Australia argues that the merger will ‘dilute protection to children and domestic violence victims’.
Ultimately, supporters and sceptics alike will be eager to see the results of the overhaul and whether it will produce a more efficient and effective family law system in Australia.