The Family Court has a new outcome that replaces Outcome 1 of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court due to the effect of the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016.

The Court’s new outcome is to:

Apply and uphold the rule of law for litigants in the Family Court of Australia through the resolution of family law matters according to law, particularly more complex family law matters and through the effective management of the administrative affairs of the Court.

The Court has three targets under timely completion of cases:

  • Clearance rate of 100 per cent
  • 75 per cent of judgments to be delivered within three months, and
  • 75 per cent of cases pending conclusion to be less than 12 months old.

Snapshot of performance

Timely completion of cases

Target

Result 2016–17

Target status

Clearance rate of 100 per cent

The clearance rate was 98 per cent

Not met

75 per cent of judgments to be delivered within three months

79 per cent of judgments were delivered within three months

Met

75 per cent of cases pending conclusion to be less than 12 months old

68 per cent of cases pending conclusion were less than 12 months old

Not met

In 2016–17 the Family Court achieved one target under timely completion of cases and was unable to achieve two. A full analysis of performance in 2016–17 follows. The annual performance statement for the Family Court of Australia is included as part of the Federal Court of Australia’s 2016–17 annual report.

Analysis of performance against purpose 2016–17

The Court deals with the most complex and difficult family law cases. Figure 3.1 and Figure 3.2 show a summary of original jurisdiction caseload during 2016–17.

Figure 3.1: Summary of original jurisdiction workload by application type, 2016–17

Application/case type

Filed

Finalised

Pending

Final order applications

2748

2742

3180

Application in a case (interim)

3469

3265

1679

Consent orders applications

14,182

13,919

1271

Other applications

342

321

213

Total

20,741

20,247

6343

 Figure 3.1: donut chart showing summary of original jurisdiction workload by application type in 2016-17

Figure 3.2: Issues sought on Final Order cases filed, 2016–17

Issues sought on Applications for Final Orders

Parenting only

32%

Financial only

51%

Parenting and financial

14%

Other

3%

 Figure 3.2: Issues sought on Final Order cases filed in 2016-17

Note: some totals in this Part do not add to 100% due to rounding.

Case attrition

The Court’s cases are made up of complex matters that often involve multiple parenting or financial issues with high levels of conflict between the parties. This is reflected in the consistent percentage of cases proceeding to judgment.

Figure 3.3: Attrition and settlement trend in the Court’s caseload, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.3: Attrition and settlement trend in the Court’s caseload, 2012–13 to 2016–17

First instance trials

Parties who are unable to settle their dispute require a judge to make a decision after a trial, although frequently parties reach an agreement during the trial process. Figure 3.4 provides the number of cases that are finalised at first instance trial.

Figure 3.4: Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.4: Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Number of finalisations

During 2016–17, the Court finalised the following matters in its original jurisdiction:

  • 2742 final order cases
  • 3265 applications in a case (interim)
  • 13,919 consent orders applications, and
  • 321 other orders’ applications.

Each application type requires a different amount of court resource effort to resolve. For example, final orders applications and associated interim applications require more judicial effort to resolve, whereas consent order applications result from parties agreeing terms prior to filing and are considered by registrars. The Court also deals with discrete applications, such as contraventions, contempt and applications made pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Final orders

During 2016–17, 2742 applications for final orders were finalised – a reduction of eight per cent from 2015–16. Whilst a number of factors can contribute to such a reduction, judicial availability has a significant impact. In the reporting year two judges retired and had not been replaced as at 30 June.

Figure 3.5: Final orders applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.5: Final orders applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Applications in a case (interim applications)

Applications in a case (interim applications) are associated with an existing case. They can be complex and often there are multiple applications within one case. During 2016–17, 3265 applications in a case were finalised, a decrease of 7.3 per cent from 2015–16.

Figure 3.6: Applications in a case, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.6: Applications in a case, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Consent orders

During 2016–17, 13,919 consent orders applications were finalised – an increase of 562 (4.2 per cent) since 2015–16.

These applications vary in complexity and are presented to the Court as an agreement between the parties. The applications are considered by a registrar, and where appropriate orders are made encompassing that agreement.

Figure 3.7 to Figure 3.10 display five year trends in filings, finalisations and pending (active) applications.

Figure 3.7: Consent orders applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.7: Consent orders applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Figure 3.8: All applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.8: All applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Clearance rate

The Court aims to finalise at least the same number of cases that start in a year, and as such, is attempting to achieve a clearance rate of at least 100 per cent. A clearance rate of 100 per cent or higher indicates that the Court is able to prevent an increase in its backlog of pending cases.

In 2016–17, the Court achieved a clearance rate of 98 per cent. Figure 3.9 shows the five year trend in clearance rates.

Figure 3.9: All applications, clearance rates, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.9: All applications, clearance rates, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Age of pending applications

The Court aims to have more than 75 per cent of its pending applications less than 12 months old. At 30 June 2017, 68 per cent of pending applications were less than 12 months old, compared with 70 per cent at 30 June 2016.

The Court regularly reviews its oldest active cases to better understand the causes of their delay and to determine ways in which the older cases can be managed. Figure 3.10 and Figure 3.11 show the five year trend in the age distribution of applications.

Figure 3.10: Age of pending applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.10: Age of pending applications, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Figure 3.11: All applications, time pending, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.11: All applications, time pending, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Age of finalised applications

The Court aims to finalise cases in a timely manner, but is mindful that family law cases are particularly difficult and emotional and the Family Court’s decisions affect many lives, potentially for many years. It is therefore difficult to set and achieve a blanket timeliness target because the number of variables affecting the parties involved in each case has multiple impacts on its progress toward a decision. With this in mind, the Court aims to finalise 75 per cent of cases within 12 months. The other 25 per cent are the most complex cases.

In 2016–17, of the cases finalised by the Court, about 93 per cent were finalised within 12 months. Figure 3.12 and Figure 3.13 show the five year trend in the age distribution of applications finalised.

Figure 3.12: Applications finalised within 12 months, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.12: Applications finalised within 12 months, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Figure 3.13: All applications, time to finalise, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.13: All applications, time to finalise, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Age of reserved judgments delivered

The Court aims to deliver 75 per cent of reserved judgments within three months of completion of a trial. In 2016–17, 580 (81 per cent) of the 713 reserved original jurisdiction judgments (excluding judgments on appeal cases) were delivered within that timeframe. For information on the performance of the appeals division, see page 48.

Figure 3.14 shows the five year trend of reserved judgments delivered within three months and Figure 3.15 shows the breakdown of time to deliver reserved judgments.

Figure 3.14: Reserved judgments delivered within three months, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.14: Reserved judgments delivered within three months, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Figure 3.15: Time to deliver reserved judgments, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.15: Time to deliver reserved judgments, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Judicial services complaints

Judges are accountable through the public nature of their work, the requirement that they give reasons for their decisions, and the scrutiny of their decisions on appeal.

In this reporting year, the Court received 26 judicial services complaints, as follows:

  • Judicial conduct – 10
  • Delay in delivery of a judgment – 16

This represented 0.125 per cent of all applications filed (20,741), under the target of one per cent (when judicial complaints and administrative complaints are combined they total 0.23 per cent).

The number of judicial services complaints received by the Court in 2016–17 is shown in Figure 3.16, which also shows the breakdown between complaints about judicial conduct and complaints about delays.

Figure 3.16: Total judicial services complaints, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.16: Total judicial services complaints, 2012–13 to 2016–17

National coverage as appellate court

Summary of appeal caseload

The Court’s Appeal Division deals with appeals from decrees of the Family Court of Australia, the Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Table 3.1 summarises the appeals workload. More information about appeals is in Part 4 of this report.

Table 3.1: Appeal caseload, 2012–13 to 2016–17

2012–13

2013–14

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

Appeals filed

318

330

389

371

344

Appeals finalised

334

337

356

354

377

Appeals pending

263

256

289

270

208

Social justice and equity impacts

Unrepresented litigants

The Court monitors the proportion of unrepresented litigants as one measure of the complexity of its caseload. Unrepresented litigants present a layer of complexity because they need more assistance to navigate the Court system and require additional help and guidance to abide by the Family Law Rules and procedures.

Figure 3.17 shows litigants who had representation at some point in their proceedings and Figure 3.18 shows the proportion of litigants who had representation at the finalisation of their trial. The proportion of the Court’s cases and trials involving legal representation remains relatively steady for the past five years.

Note: The Court has revised its counting rule for these figures and as such the values in this section differ from those published in previous reports. The figure now excludes cases that did not have a first court event (i.e. withdrew or discontinued before appearing at court) and so they had not proceeded beyond filing. The information about legal representation in these cases was often incomplete as the parties had not provided this information at the time of filing.

Figure 3.17: Representation of litigants’ finalised cases, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.17: Representation of litigants’ finalised cases, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Figure 3.18: Representation of litigants at trials, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.18: Representation of litigants at trials, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Family violence and abuse (or risk)

Section 67Z of the Family Law Act 1975 and Part 2.3 of the Family Law Rules 2004, requires a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence to be filed in cases in which it is alleged that a child to proceedings has been abused or is at risk of abuse, or where there is an allegation of family violence or risk of family violence involving a child or a member of the child’s family. Once filed, the Notice must be sent to a prescribed child welfare authority.

The proportion of matters in which a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence has been filed does not reflect all the cases in which family violence is raised or is an issue. Allegations of abuse or risk of abuse and family violence or risk of family violence are also raised by parties in other ways e.g. in affidavits filed in the proceedings and by the filing of a Family Violence Order (Rule 2.05 Family Law Rules 2004).

Figure 3.19 shows that in 2016–17, the number of Notices of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence filed has continued to increase, adding additional workload to the Court. This reflects the growing awareness of family violence within the community and the need for litigants to raise family violence in conformity with the 2012 amendments. It also reflects the increasing complexity of the Court’s cases and the extent to which violence is an element in many of them.

Figure 3.19: Notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.19: Notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Figure 3.20: Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.20: Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2012–13 to 2016–17

* On 7 June 2012, new definitions and rules on family violence were enacted.

Magellan cases

Magellan cases involve serious allegations of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse of a child and undergo special case management. When a Magellan case is identified, it is managed by a small team consisting of a judge, a registrar and a family consultant. Magellan case management relies on collaborative and highly coordinated processes and procedures. A crucial aspect is strong interagency coordination, in particular with state and territory child protection agencies. This ensures that problems are dealt with efficiently and that high-quality information is shared. An independent children’s lawyer is appointed in every Magellan case.

Typically, a Magellan case is one where a notice of abuse or family violence is filed, although not all notices will necessarily result in the case being classified as a Magellan matter. The Court assesses and determines, from the issues raised, the matters that are managed under the Magellan program. Figure 3.21 details the number of Magellan cases commenced and finalised in the past five years.

Figure 3.21: Magellan cases, 2012–13 to 2016–17

 Figure 3.21: Magellan cases, 2012–13 to 2016–17

Feedback and complaints management

The Family Court is committed to responding effectively to feedback and complaints and has published information on the Court’s website (www.familycourt.gov.au) about how to lodge complaints and feedback.

The judicial complaints procedure is also published on the website. That procedure is in line with the provisions inserted by the Courts Legislation Amendment (Judicial Complaints) Act 2012. It is also in line with the procedures of other federal courts. Judicial complaints are dealt with on page 39.

The Family Court records all complaints made in relation to Family Court proceedings, although some complaints relate to services provided by the Federal Circuit Court, such as registry services and child dispute services, or other third parties.

In this reporting year the Court received the following complaints:

Complaints about Family Court services

  • Administrative processes, 1
  • Conduct of registrars, 4
  • Privacy, 2
  • Total 7

Complaints arising from services provided by the Federal Circuit Court or other third parties and relating to Family Court matters

  • Conduct of administrative staff, 3
  • Conduct of family consultants, 8
  • Family Reports, 2
  • Security, 3
  • Total 16

The figures above do not include complaints about judicial outcomes, which can be dealt with through the appeal process; matters that are in other courts, such as the Family Court of Western Australia; or complaints about family law legislation, which is a matter for the Government.

At 23, the number of complaints in Family Court matters represented 0.11 per cent of all applications received. Combined with 26 judicial complaints (see judicial complaints on page 39 for more detail) complaints represented 0.23 per cent of applications received, thus achieving the KPI for complaints to be no more than one per cent of applications received.