Antonia Fontana, Family Law Associate at Dimocks family lawyers, discusses the Federal Government’s proposal to create a ‘Super Court’ from a merger of the Family and Federal Circuit courts.
INTERESTING TIMES AHEAD FOR FAMILY LAW
On 30 May, 2018 the Government announced a radical re-shaping of the Family Law system, which will see the amalgamation of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
This new Court (FCFCA) will mean there is one single point of entry for all family law matters. The FCFCA will comprise of two divisions:
1. Division One – which will deal predominantly with family law matters and will be made up of the existing judges of the Family Court; and
2. Division Two – which will deal with general federal law and also family law matters. This division will be made up of the existing Federal Circuit Court judges.
Both divisions of the FCFCA will operate with one Chief Justice and be supported by one Deputy Chief Justice. According to the Attorney-General, having “a common head of jurisdiction will enable a common case management approach and more effective allocation of cases between the two Divisions” This will in turn enable “the courts to clear more cases than they receive in applications each year and reduce the backlog of pending cases”.
In addition, the new reforms will also see the introduction of a new Family Law Appeal Division (FLAD) in the Federal Court of Australia, which will hear all appeals in family law matters from the FCFCA and some appeals from the Family Court of Western Australia. This change will allow “considerable judicial resources currently used to hear appeals to focus on hearing first instance family law matters” instead.
The Government’s announcement could be seen to pre-empt the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission, which is due to hand down its report into the family law system in March, 2019.
It also remains to be seen whether the reforms will achieve the A-G’s stated objective of cutting waiting times. There is no commitment to increase the number of Judges currently sitting, and the recent Budget noticeably failed to increase funding for the Family Law Courts.
The Government wants the FCFCA and the FLAD to be up and running in January, 2019. To that end, legislation is expected to be introduced into Parliament during the spring parliamentary sittings. Following this, FCFCA is also expected to update its rules to achieve consistency in not only its forms but also its procedures – which at the moment is lacking, by having two separate systems.
Antonia Fontana has been practising exclusively in family law since her admission in 2007. Her sound legal understanding is backed by solid academic credentials, involvement in family law legal circles, and commitment to excellence. Antonia represents her clients in the full range of family matters, in a sensitive and practical manner.
She has particular experience with issues confronting same sex couples, surrogacy, and blended families. Antonia also chaired the NSW Young Lawyers Family Law Committee for three years and participated in the Family Issues Committee of the Law Society as a Young Lawyer representative. She is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia. Contact Antonia at [email protected]