Since 1 September 2021, what was previously two separate courts – the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia – now forms one amalgamated Court, which is known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. The new Court operates under a single set of rules but comprises of two Divisions.
Why were the Courts merged?
The merging of the two Courts was proposed and ultimately actioned in response to concerns from the legal community about the complexities of navigating the family law system. It was recommended that a merger of the two Courts dealing with family law matters would provide a faster, cheaper, and more simple way for families to resolve disputes by doing away with excessive rules and procedures.
Proponents of the merger argued that a single-entry point would help to reduce delays, clear extensive backlogs being experienced by the courts, and offer a more streamlined approach to resolving family law matters.
The proposed merger was initially met with controversy as some experts in family law expressed the need for a stand-alone family court that deals with complex matters. Their concerns were supported by members of parliament and peak legal bodies, who felt the merger may compromise the safety of children and victims of family violence.
What is the structure of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia?
The merger of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court to create the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia means that all family law matters and other federal matters will be heard in accordance with the new rules governing the practice and procedure and operations of the amalgamated Courts. This single set of rules was designed to simplify the process for parties managing the two sets of rules and procedures associated with the previous structure.
The newly formed Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia comprises of two Divisions, being Division 1: a continuation of the former Family Court, and Division 2: a continuation of the former Federal Circuit Court.
A Chief Justice will lead the operations of both Divisions of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, with the support of a Deputy Chief Justice. Both of these judges will form part of the legislated minimum of 25 judges that must comprise Division 1.
Complex family law matters used to be initiated through the Family Court, however, a key difference between the new and previous structures is that all new applications must be filed in Division 2 and will be transferred to Division 1 if they are deemed to be complex.
What used to be known as the Appeal Division of the Family Court ceases to exist under the new structure and appeals will now be heard by Division 1 judges.