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The Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia officially merged to form the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (‘FCFCOA’) on 1 September 2021. The FCFCOA subsequently published the Central Practice Direction to detail the new case management pathway. As a practitioner or litigant in family law matters understanding the major structural changes to the system is imperative.
The purposes of the Central Practice Direction are to outline the core principles applicable to family law proceedings and to establish a consistent national case management system that:
Prior to commencing proceedings, parties are required to comply with the pre-action procedures for both financial and parenting proceedings, contained in Schedule 1 of the Family Law Rules and section 60I of the Family Law Act. The FCFCOA also requires that parties take genuine steps to attempt to resolve their issues prior to commencing proceedings unless it is unsafe to do so or a relevant exemption applies. The aim of the pre-action procedures is to explore possibilities for resolution and, where a dispute cannot be resolved, to narrow the issues that require a court decision.
Parties have a duty to make full and frank disclosure of all information relevant to the issues in dispute in a timely manner. The Court may impose serious consequences for failing to comply with this pre-action requirement. In financial proceedings, parties must exchange a schedule of assets and liabilities, a list of documents in the party’s possession or control that are relevant to the dispute and a copy of any document required by the other party. In parenting proceedings, relevant documents that must be disclosed may include medical reports, school reports, letters, drawings and photographs. The pre-action procedures for financial and parenting proceedings are summarised in the prescribed brochures found on the FCFCOA website.
The following listing pathway will apply to family law proceedings, other than urgent applications and cases allocated to specialist lists:
Subject to the parties complying with relevant orders and directions, the Court will endeavor to list matters for Final Hearing on a date earlier than 12 months from the date of commencing proceedings.
A core principle of the Central Practice Direction is that effective case management relies on the prioritization of Dispute Resolution, including private mediation, Family Dispute Resolution, Conciliation Conferences, and arbitration (in property disputes for as many appropriate cases as possible).
The Court expects that people involved in family law disputes will only make an application to the Court when there are no other readily available means of resolving their dispute.
Dispute resolution services can provide an affordable and timely option for resolving disputes while allowing parties to have greater input into the process and the outcome.
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