Helping Australian families move through the family court system faster and at lower cost is the key focus of legislation introduced into Parliament today to reform family law courts.
"The current system is letting Australian families down," the Attorney-General said.
"Having two separate family law courts with different sets of rules, practice management styles, forms, procedures and listing entry points dealing with the same body of family law matters simply does not work. It leads to confusion, delays, additional costs and unequal experiences for many applicants.
"Structural reform of the family courts has been on the agenda for at least a decade and it is now time for action.
"We need to ensure our courts have the structure, systems and processes in place that allow people to move through the system as quickly as possible so they can move on with their lives.
"This is most important for children of relationships which have broken down. We cannot allow the court systems broken structures to exacerbate delays."
The Attorney-General said the legislation would bring together the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia into one structure to be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFC), which will operate from 1 January 2019.
The FCFC will comprise two divisions. Division 1 will be a continuation of the Family Court, whilst Division 2 will be a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court.
A new Family Law Appeal Division will be established in the Federal Court of Australia to hear all appeals in family law matters from the FCFC and appeals in federal family law matters from the Family Court of Western Australia.
"These reforms are the result of careful consideration of numerous reports looking into the user-experience and overall efficiency of the family law system," the Attorney-General said.
The Turnbull Government invests more than $1 billion a year in our legal system, and in recent times invested an additional $37.4 million, including $25 million to the courts, to deliver faster, better results for families. As important as this investment is, it is now well past time that this funding is accompanied by fundamental structural reform.
The legislation introduced will create a more efficient system that increases access to justice. From 1 January 2019, all new family law matters will be filed in the new FCFC. Further reform will then be implemented to ensure applications will follow a common case-management pathway.
Each matter will be directed to the most appropriate Judge in the most appropriate Division by case management teams led by judges. There will be no wrong door for family law matters.
The new Family Law Appeal Division will allow for increased flexibility in case management and will provide a unified approach to federal law more generally.
Appeals in family law matters from FCFC (Division 2) would ordinarily be heard by a single Judge of the Family Law Appeal Division. Having appeals heard by a single judge in most cases will free up considerable judicial resources to help reduce delays in family law appeal matters.
It is estimated that structural reforms will improve the efficiency of the federal family law system by up to a third, with the potential in time to allow up to an extra 8,000 cases to be resolved each and every year, including up to 3,000 additional family law matters each year through a common structured initial case management process and managed case listing.
Establishing a single management structure for the FCFC and creating the Family Law Appeal Division in the Federal Court will help Australian families resolve their disputes faster by improving the efficiency of the family law system, reducing the backlog of matters before the family law courts, and driving more consistent dispute resolution with better outcomes for families.
For more information about the reforms, and to view the bills, please visit the Attorney-General's Department website.