As of September 2021 significant changes to Australia’s family law system have been in effect, designed to simplify and speed up the process of the Court deciding on parenting orders.
‘The overlapping family law jurisdiction between the previous Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC) led to significant inefficiencies, confusion, delays, additional costs and unequal experiences for many families,’ the Federal Attorney-General’s department said of the change.
The ‘merger’ of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) brought with it some new rules and procedures in an attempt to streamline the process when parents cannot agree on arrangements for the care and upbringing of children.
A key change in the new structure is a new case management pathway, designed to prevent bottlenecks and unnecessary delays in having parenting matters (and also property and financial cases) resolved by the court.
We’ll provide more details on these changes in this post. If you need more information about applying to the court to decide on matters relating to children after separation, contact us at Central Coast Family Lawyers at Felicio Law Firm where family law is one of our specialties.
The new case management pathway
A significant change to the way parenting disputes are handled in the FCFCOA relates to the stages before legal proceedings begin, referred to as ‘pre-action procedures.
The court has indicated there will be a greater focus on legal representatives of the parties complying with these procedures.
Prior to proceedings, a person applying for parenting orders must provide to the other party written notice of intention to start a proceeding. The respondent must then respond to the notice.
When applying for parenting orders, there is also a new requirement for the parties to file a parenting questionnaire with the initiating application, or the response, which summarises the current and proposed future arrangements for the children.
The document is designed to help the court registrar or judge gain a greater understanding of what each party is seeking, and the needs of the children, when the parties first appear in court.
Identifying the risk and safety of children at the beginning of each case is the motivation for the change.
The court’s practice directions provide more detail on what a parent needs to provide in an initiating application for parenting orders:
- a certificate given to the applicant by a family dispute resolution practitioner;
- a ‘Genuine Steps Certificate’ that confirms the applicant’s compliance with the pre-action procedures;
- a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk, if relevant;
- the parenting questionnaire;
- an undertaking as to disclosure;
- a copy of any family violence order affecting the child or a member of the child’s family;
- if the application seeks interlocutory (interim) orders, an affidavit stating the facts relied on in support of the interlocutory orders sought.
The applicant must also pay the filing fee unless an exemption applies.
The parties will be encouraged to try and resolve areas of disagreement through dispute resolution at multiple stages prior to proceedings, either through private mediation, a conciliation conference, arbitration, a legal aid conference or court-based family dispute resolution.
This was always the case in parenting cases but will be more strictly enforced in the new Court setup.
Where matters cannot be resolved by this means, the new structure seeks to list trials earlier than in the previous system.
Other changes in the new structure
People bringing a parenting dispute to the new FCFCOA will find that their initial interaction with the court will more often be with registrars, senior registrars, and family consultants.
The change is designed to help judges within the court more quickly and efficiently resolve matters that require priority.
In parenting cases, a registrar or judge may order a Child Impact Report at an early stage of court proceedings to provide information about the experiences and needs of children as they are relevant to the dispute.
On the announcement of the new court, it was suggested that after an application for parenting orders the first court event will occur within 6-8 weeks, with mediation or dispute resolution to take place within six months of filing.
If the matter proceeds to trial, the aim is for it to proceed within 12 months of the initial application.
Is legal advice necessary?
People applying to the court for parenting orders – or for consent orders where two parents are asking the court to formalise a parenting agreement made between them – do not necessarily need to be represented by a lawyer.
But family law is a complex area, particularly where parents hold significantly different views on how their children should be raised.
It’s important to seek legal advice from specialists in this area of the law before you make an application so as to fully understand your rights and responsibilities.
At Felicio Law Firm we have many years of experience in family law matters. Whether you need advice on making a parenting plan, seeking consent orders from the court, or applying for parenting orders when you can’t agree, we will help guide you through the process and explain the new arrangements under the new Federal Circuit and Family Law Court.
Contact us Central Coast family lawyers today.