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.

Outcome and program

From 1 July 2016, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, together with the Federal Court of Australia were designated a single administrative entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and a single statutory agency under the Public Service Act 1999; with shared corporate services.

The Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 established the single administrative entity, 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 2019–20 can be found in Part 3 (Report on Court performance) on page 16. The Court’s annual performance statement can be found in the Federal Court’s 2019–20 annual report.

Jurisdiction

The Family Court exercises original and appellate jurisdiction in family law, including in a number of highly specialised areas.

At first instance, the Court determines cases with the most complex law, facts and parties, and hears cases arising under the regulations implementing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

It provides national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters, including hearing appeals from decisions of single judges of the Court and from judges of the Federal Circuit Court in family law matters and from the Family Court of Western Australia.

The Family Court has jurisdiction under all aspects of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). The types of cases the Family Court deals with include:

  • 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.

Changes to the Court’s jurisdiction in 2019–20

There were no changes to the Court’s jurisdiction in 2019–20.

Organisational chart

Figure 2.1: Organisational Chart

Judicial officers

At 30 June 2020, there were 33 judicial positions in the Court, including the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice.

Photo of Chief Justice William Alstergren

Chief Justice

The Chief Justice is responsible for ensuring the effective, orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the Court (section 21B Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)) and for managing its administrative affairs (s 38A). The Chief Justice is assisted in judicial responsibilities by the Deputy Chief Justice (s 21B) and in administrative responsibilities by the CEO and Principal Registrar (s 38B). The Chief Justice’s chambers are located in the Melbourne registry. The Honourable William Alstergren was appointed Chief Justice of the Family Court on 10 December 2018.

Photo of Deputy Chief Justice Robert McClelland

Deputy Chief Justice

The Deputy Chief Justice assists the Chief Justice in the judicial administration of the Court. Particular responsibilities include case management, complaints about judges, the collection and strategic assessment of statistics, pastoral care and oversight of the Court’s committees. In the absence of the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice performs and exercises the powers of the Chief Justice (s 24). The Honourable Robert McClelland was appointed as Deputy Chief Justice on 10 December 2018.

Judges assigned to the Appeal Division – 30 June 2020

Table 2.1: Judges assigned to the Appeal Division, 30 June 2020
Judge Appointed to the Appeal Division

The Honourable Chief Justice William Alstergren

10 December 2018

The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice Robert McClelland

10 December 2018

The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland

14 December 2009

The Honourable Justice Ann Margaret Ainslie-Wallace

9 July 2010

The Honourable Justice Judith Maureen Ryan

27 September 2012

The Honourable Justice Murray Robert Aldridge

12 March 2015

The Honourable Justice Michael Patrick Kent

10 December 2015

The Honourable Justice Garry Allan Watts

21 June 2018

The Honourable Justice Stewart Craig Austin

21 June 2018

The Honourable Justice Peter William Tree

22 March 2019

Family Court of Australia Judges – 30 June 2020

Table 2.2: Family Court of Australia judges, 30 June 2020
Judge Appointed
Adelaide

The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland

22 November 1999

The Honourable Justice David Michael Berman

18 July 2013

The Honourable Justice Christine Mead

25 March 2019

Brisbane Appointed

The Honourable Justice Colin James Forrest

1 February 2011

The Honourable Justice Michael Patrick Kent

12 July 2011

The Honourable Justice Jenny Deyell Hogan

14 January 2013

The Honourable Justice Catherine Carew

7 March 2016

The Honourable Justice Michael Baumann AM

11 January 2018

Canberra Appointed

The Honourable Justice Shane Leslie Gill

16 May 2016

Hobart Appointed

The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM

19 August 2005

Melbourne Appointed

The Honourable Chief Justice William Alstergren

13 October 2017

The Honourable Justice Victoria Jane Bennett AO

30 November 2005

The Honourable Justice Kirsty Marion Macmillan

14 December 2011

The Honourable Justice Sharon Louise Johns

29 July 2013

The Honourable Justice Jillian Williams

8 February 2019

The Honourable Justice Joshua Wilson

11 March 2019

The Honourable Justice Norah Hartnett

25 March 2019

The Honourable Justice Timothy McEvoy

27 March 2019

Newcastle Appointed

The Honourable Justice Stewart Craig Austin

13 July 2009

The Honourable Justice Margaret Ann Cleary

8 July 2010

Parramatta Appointed

The Honourable Justice Garry Frederick Foster

8 August 2013

The Honourable Justice Hilary Rae Hannam

13 August 2013

Sydney Appointed

The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice Robert Bruce McClelland

16 June 2015

The Honourable Justice Ann Margaret Ainslie-Wallace

9 July 2010

The Honourable Justice Judith Maureen Ryan

31 July 2006

The Honourable Justice Murray Robert Aldridge

13 December 2012

The Honourable Justice Janine Patricia Hazelwood Stevenson

18 May 2001

The Honourable Justice Garry Allan Watts

14 April 2005

The Honourable Justice Ian James Loughnan

12 July 2010

The Honourable Justice Judith Anne Rees

15 December 2011

The Honourable Justice Louise Henderson

8 February 2019

The Honourable Justice Robert Harper

11 March 2019

Townsville Appointed

The Honourable Justice Peter William Tree

14 January 2013

Family Court of Western Australia

The following judges of the Family Court of Western Australia also hold commissions in the Family Court of Australia.

Table 2.3: Family Court of Western Australia judges, 30 June 2020
Judge Date of Family Court commission

Chief Judge The Honourable Justice Gail Sutherland

16 March 2018

The Honourable Justice Simon Moncrieff

31 August 2009

The Honourable Justice Susan Janet Duncanson

6 December 2012

The Honourable Justice Richard O’Brien

12 April 2016

The Honourable Justice Ciara Tyson

22 February 2019

Judges appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal

  • The Honourable Justice Janine Stevenson
  • The Honourable Justice Victoria Bennett AO
  • The Honourable Justice David Berman
  • The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM
  • The Honourable Timothy McEvoy

Judicial appointments

There were no judicial appointments in 2019–20.

Judicial retirements

Photo of Justice Johnston

There was one judicial retirement in 2019–20. Justice Johnston retired on 4 September 2019.

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.