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Family Law Update: New merged courts

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Family Law Update: New merged courts

Recent developments

The Family Law Committee would like to advise members of recent developments and releases from the new merged Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

Wednesday 1 September 2021

New FCFCOA website goes live

The new website for the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia is now live. In addition to recent circulars providing details about the updated Rules, there are a number of other Practice Directions and forms that will be new to family law practitioners.

Updated Practice Directions and forms

Court Rules: Cross reference tables - old to new

The Family Law Committee is liaising with the Canberra Registry of the new FCFCOA for the delivery by the local judiciary of information sessions about the new Rules in the next few weeks.

Monday 30 August 2021

New family law rules

The new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 were released over the weekend. The are several new elements to the Rules and practitioners who regularly practice in family law should familiarise themselves with them. The Rules are effective from 1 September 2021.

The Family Law Committee expects to host information sessions about the new Rules in the near future.

Please also see the Practice Direction directed to transitional arrangements. The new Rules apply to all existing matters as and from 1 September 2021. New forms and additional Practice Directions will become available on the new website (www.fcfcoa.gov.au), which is expected to be live by 1 September 2021.

Appointment of new Judicial Registrars

We congratulate Sally Hiles who takes up a position as Judicial Registrar from 30 August 2021. Many will know Sally from her most recent position with ACT Legal Aid. We look forward to working with Sally in her new role.

A number of other appointments have been made around the country.

Friday 27 August 2021

Divorce Applications – witnessing applications during lockdown

Practitioners will be familiar with Joint Practice Direction 2 of 2020 – Special Measures in Response to COVID-19, including the provisions relating to signatures on documents and affidavits. Paragraph 12 of the Joint Practice Direction excludes affidavits that are part of a Divorce Application from those special measures. These affidavits have been required to be witnessed in the ordinary manner.

The Canberra Registry have advised that during the period of community lockdown Divorce Applications will be accepted where the witness has seen the deponent sign the document by AVL and then signs as witness. For example, a deponent can sign the application during a teams/zoom conference, and then scan and email the application to the solicitor who then signs as witness. It should be clear on the face of the document the manner in which it has been witnessed (i.e. in person or by AVL etc).

The Court has indicated this practice will cease on the day a local lockdown is lifted.

Monday 23 August 2021

Commencement of the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia

On 1 September 2021, the Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC) will be amalgamated to create the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA). Division 1 of the FCFCOA will deal only with family law matters, while Division 2 will deal with both family law and general federal law matters.

Launch of a new National Contravention List

To address a long-standing issue of non-compliance with court orders that are made in family law proceedings in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Courts have created a dedicated national electronic court list that will deal, consistently and responsively, with contravention applications. Applications will be given a first return court date within 14 days of filing. The new National Contravention List will commence on 1 September 2021.

Central Practice Direction - Family Law Case Management

This will be the guiding Practice Direction for the way in which the majority of family law applications are dealt from 1 September 2021.

Reminder that family law disputes impacted by the pandemic may be dealt with through the Courts’ COVID-19 List

The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) are essential service providers, and the Courts remain open.

The various state and territory restrictions, including border closures, may impact parenting or other family law orders, or may have created new issues of dispute. Families that are having difficulties and cannot negotiate a resolution may be eligible for priority hearing through the Courts’ National COVID-19 List which is dedicated to dealing exclusively with priority family law disputes that have arisen as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking ahead

The Family Law Committee are awaiting updates on the harmonised rules, new forms to support the harmonised rules and the Central Practice Direction, and anticipated additional Practice Directions regarding specific areas of family law practice. We will circulate these, as well as any new updates via the Society's website and regular emails.

We understand there will be a grace period of 90 days with respect to new forms. There will also be some initial allowances for adapting to the new case management systems.

The Family Law Committee will look to hold professional development and information sessions, in conjunction with the Court, and we will advise members when we have finalised details for these sessions.