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The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court to combine

Last week, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced that a new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) is to be set up and will be operational from 1 January 2019. This move is part of sweeping changes to the present family law system that can be financially and emotionally devastating.

Mr Porter said the new amalgamated court will help Australian families resolve their disputes faster by improving the efficiency of the existing split family law system, reducing the backlog of matters before the family law courts, therefore driving faster, cheaper and more consistent dispute resolution.

The new FCFCA will have a single point of entry for all federal family law matters, offering consistency for Australian families needing their disputes dealt with by court proceedings with one court with one set of rules, procedures and practices.

Some 22,000 cases are filed across the two courts each year, and Mr Porter said delays in the family law system meant most cases were taking almost a year and a half just to reach trial.

He argued the merger was necessary given there is major crossover in jurisdiction and procedures of the two courts, and could result in an extra 8,000 cases being resolved each year.

“Despite the number of cases filed each year remaining relatively static over the past five years, the number of family law matters awaiting resolution has grown from 17,000 to 21,000 and the median time taken to reach trial has grown in both courts, from 10.8 months to 15.2 months in the Federal Circuit Court and from 11.5 months to 17 months in the Family Court.”, Mr Porter explained.

With people in the system often experiencing the most difficult and emotional periods of their lives, addressing this backlog is indeed what the Attorney-General is aiming to do: “It’s estimated that these reforms will improve the efficiency of the federal family law system by up to a third, with the potential in time to allow up to an extra 8,000 cases to be resolved each and every year,” he said.

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