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Court reforms to deliver better outcomes for families

Media Release

Fixing the broken structure of the family court system and helping families achieve faster and lower cost resolutions are the key aims of legislation to be introduced into Federal Parliament today.

The Bills merge the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court – both of which exercise largely the same family law jurisdiction – into a new single court structure to be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court (FCFC).

The merger will help reduce delays and backlogs in the family law courts and remove the unnecessary confusion, duplication and additional costs that have plagued the existing dual court system for decades.

'Families going through a separation are under enough stress and pressure already without also having to navigate their way through two separate court systems that ostensibly do the same thing, but have different entry points, forms, procedures, rules and practice management styles,' Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

'Bringing the courts together under one amalgamated structure creates a single point of entry for families who will no longer be bounced around between different courts – an issue that occurs too often in the current system and can lead to lengthy delays for families because matters have to begin again.'

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bills have been informed by multiple independent inquiries held over the past decade which examined the user experience and efficiency of the existing system. The most recent of those reviews found that this reform has the potential to allow an extra 8,000 cases to be resolved each year.

'The reality is that everyone involved in the family law system has known for years that it needs to be reformed, but no one has been able to agree on the best way forward,' the Attorney-General said.

'Doing nothing is no longer an option, as Australian families deserve better.'

'Our courts need to function efficiently so that people can move through them as quickly as possible and then get on with rebuilding their lives. This is critically important for children of separating couples.'

Importantly, the reform will not abolish the Family Court. Division 1 of the FCFC will be a continuation of the Family Court, whilst Division 2 of the FCFC will be a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court.

The Bills introduced today include amendments to the legislation previously introduced into the Parliament. Most notably, family law appeals will continue to be heard by the FCFC, in Division 1, rather than in the Federal Court of Australia. However, there will be no Appeal Division in the FCFC (Division 1). Instead, all FCFC (Division 1) judges will be able to hear appeals either as a single judge, which will allow the FCFC to hear more matters each year.

The legislation also requires that those hearing family law matters in either Division will need to satisfy additional appointment criteria to ensure they are suitable to deal with family law matters, including family violence.

'The unfortunate reality is that many of the matters that come before the family law courts involve family violence, and as such, it is appropriate to codify that judicial appointees have the ability to deal with such cases.'

As part of this reform, the Government has provided $4 million in funding to the federal courts to review court rules and assist with implementing the reforms, as well as a $3.7 million boost to court resources.

For more information about the reforms, please visit the Attorney-General’s Department website.