Overview of the Court

About the Court

The Family Court of Australia (Family Court) is a superior court of record established by Parliament in 1975 under Chapter III of the Constitution. The Court operates under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and, through its specialist judges and staff, helps Australians to resolve their most complex family disputes.

Purpose

As outlined in the Corporate Plan, the purpose of the Family Court, as Australia’s superior court in family law, is to help Australians resolve their most complex family disputes by deciding matters according to the law, promptly, courteously and effectively.

Jurisdiction

The Family Court deals with more complex matters. These may include, for example:

  • Parenting cases involving a child welfare agency and/or allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse of a child (Magellan cases); family violence and/or mental health issues with other complexities; multiple parties; cases where orders sought would have the effect of preventing a parent from communicating with or spending time with a child; multiple expert witnesses; complex questions of law and/or special jurisdictional issues; international child abduction under the Hague Convention; special medical procedures; and/or international relocation.
  • Financial cases that involve multiple parties, valuation of complex interests in trust or corporate structures, including minority interests, multiple expert witnesses, complex questions of law and/or jurisdictional issues or complex issues concerning superannuation.

    The Court also has original jurisdiction under certain Commonwealth Acts, including:

    • Marriage Act 1961
    • Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988
    • Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989, and
    • Bankruptcy Act 1966.

Outcome and Program

Effective 1 July 2016, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Federal Circuit Court) were amalgamated with the Federal Court of Australia (Federal Court) into a single administrative body with a single appropriation and shared corporate services.

The Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 established the amalgamated body, known as the Federal Court of Australia. This approach preserves the courts’ functional and judicial independence while improving their financial sustainability.

Outcome 2

The outcome of the Court is to apply and uphold the rule of law for litigants in the Family Court 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.

Program 2.1

The Family Court has a single program under which all services are provided: Family Court of Australia.

Performance criteria

  • 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.

Details of the Court’s performance in 2018–19 can be found in Part 3 (Report on court performance) on page 15. The Court’s annual performance statement can be found in the Federal Court’s 2018–19 annual report.

Court service locations

Judges and registrars of the Court are located at the following registries:

  • Adelaide
  • Brisbane
  • Canberra
  • Hobart
  • Melbourne
  • Newcastle
  • Parramatta
  • Sydney, and
  • Townsville.

Access and inclusion

The Court continues to develop and implement plans under its access and inclusion framework. The framework aims to ensure all parties, particularly parties who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, receive the assistance they need to access the Court.

The framework acknowledges that justice begins well before a party has their first court event, and that a party’s capacity to participate in court processes is significantly influenced by the quality of information and the level of administrative support they receive.

Linking to the International Framework for Court Excellence, the access and inclusion framework also takes a broader view across the shared infrastructure needed to support the delivery of accessible services (e.g. information technology, training and performance development) as well as identifying the links, approaches, synergies and principles that affect justice as a whole.

The current plans under the framework are:

  • Multicultural Plan
  • Family Violence Plan, and
  • Reconciliation Action Plan.

Social media

The Court uses social media to communicate in real time with court users and the profession.

Twitter

Twitter provides followers with timely, relevant and easy access to information about the Court and family law issues. Followers are predominately legal professionals, law students, journalists and members of the general public.

Tweets include:

  • Judgments, reports, publications and factsheets
  • Legislative news – changes to rules, practice directions, forms or fee updates
  • Commonwealth Courts Portal news, and
  • Media releases and statements.

2018–19 Twitter statistics at a glance

4634 followers

103 tweets sent
Average of two per week.

Top tweet 9 July 2018

Family Court tweet regarding the Reconciliation action plan being launched and acknowledging the artist Richard Allen

The Court’s Twitter address is www.twitter.com/FamilyCourtAU.

YouTube

The Court’s You Tube channel provides a range of videos to help litigants prepare for and understand court processes.

During 2018–19, the Court’s channel had a total of 31,217 views, with 102,526 minutes watched.

The most viewed video was ‘Mediation – what to expect’, which features a re-enactment of the mediation process between a separated couple deciding on parenting arrangements.

The Court’s YouTube channel is at www.youtube.com/user/familycourtAU.

Reconciliation Action Plan

The Court officially launched its Reconciliation Action Plan 2018–20 (RAP) in July 2018. The Court made its first concerted efforts to promote and improve access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 1993 when it established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awareness Committee comprised of senior court staff. Under the broad direction of the committee, the Court implemented a number of initiatives designed to promote indigenous people’s access to justice.

Since then, the Court has built on these actions and developed and implemented the 2004 Family Court of Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Plan and the Indigenous Plan 2010–13 and 2014–16.

The RAP updates previous plans and commits the Court to continue working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to overcome the multiple barriers they face when trying to access the Court, including literacy and language barriers and a lack of service access for communities in regional and remote areas.

Initiatives

Digital Court Program

The Digital Court Program (DCP) will deliver benefits in the family law jurisdiction by strengthening electronic filing, expanding the number of documents that can be eFiled, implementing a digital court file, improving the courts’ case management system and implementing a new document management system for the courts’ digital information.

The DCP is part of the Government’s broader digital transformation agenda and was announced as part of the Streamlining and Improving the Sustainability of Courts budget package. It also aligns with the Attorney-General’s Department’s strategic priority to Maintain an efficient and effective Commonwealth justice system.

During 2018–19, the following enhancements were made to eFiling on the Commonwealth Courts Portal:

  • the ability to eFile a greater number of applications online
  • support for fee reduction/exemption applications (for financial hardship)
  • online lodgment for correspondence
  • the ability to indicate safety considerations, urgency, and the need for interpreters
  • the ability to upload 30Mb sized documents, and
  • support for Parenting Orders sought with Family Dispute Resolution Exemptions.

Rules harmonisation

The courts are taking a major step to improve family law in Australia. This includes establishing, for the first time, a common set of rules, forms and case management in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. At present, the family law courts involve two different sets of rules, forms and processes. In an effort to reduce confusion for litigants and increase efficiency and timeliness, a working group of judges of both courts was established in February 2019. Government funding has been provided to resource this project.

This endeavour has been a key priority of Chief Justice Alstergren since his appointment as Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court in October 2017. The Honourable Dr Chris Jessup QC was appointed by the Chief Justice in April 2019 to oversee the harmonisation project, and assist in developing a consistent approach to case management that places a priority on identifying risk to children. Dr Jessup QC with assistance from two barristers is working closely with the judges in the working group to draft a common set of rules and forms.

Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Act 2018

The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Act 2018 commenced on 10 March 2019 amending the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Division 4 of Part XI of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) now provides that, from 10 September 2019, unrepresented parties will not be permitted to personally cross-examine another party if there are allegations of family violence and:

  • either party has been convicted of, or is charged with, an offence involving violence, or threat of violence, involving the other party – s 102NA(1)(c)(i)
  • a final Family Violence Order applies to both parties – s 102NA(1)(c)(ii)
  • an injunction has been made under s 68B or s 114 of the Family Law Act for the personal protection of one party against another – s 102NA(1)(c)(iii), or
  • the Court makes an order that personal cross-examination should not be permitted – s 102NA(1)(c)(iv).

In matters involving alleged family violence which do not fall into the above categories, personal cross-examination by an unrepresented party is permitted, but the Court must ensure alternative protections, such as cross-examination via video link, are implemented – s 102NB.

In preparation of the operation of the above provisions, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court have been collaborating with the Attorney-General’s Department and the various state legal aid agencies in the preparation of resources to assist litigants, as well as the development of suitable arrangements for the referral of parties to access the scheme. The courts have prepared for the implementation through identifying matters already listed for hearing which may be subject to these provisions and making arrangements for referral or relisting to address any issues.

Section 102NC requires a review of the operation of Division 4 to occur. The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court will assist the Attorney-General’s Department in the collection of data. The courts have been liaising with the Attorney-General’s Department in the preparation of a data collection form that will be completed by court staff to assist in the review.