The Family Court is responsible for resolving family disputes, but the duration of the process can vary significantly. Factors such as complexity, caseload, and the need for additional proceedings can influence how long it takes to go through the family court system.
Find out more about the Family Court process, what steps are involved, and what can influence the length of your family court proceedings. There are many reasons that you may need to attend the Family Law Courts. It may be to finalise a divorce or settle parenting or financial matters. The time frame for the court process can vary depending on your circumstances and legal matters. Let’s take a closer look.
The Family Court Process In Australia
The Family Court in Australia deals with a variety of matters, including parental, property and financial. Depending on your circumstances, the court process and timings will vary. Ideally, avoiding court altogether and reaching an agreement via mediation is the best option. Generally speaking, court attendance should be a last resort, as a court case can be expensive, time consuming and may not end with a satisfactory decision. Unfortunately, there are many situations where it may not be possible, and a family court will be required to make a ruling on your behalf.
Before attending the Federal Circuit Court, you should seek expert advice from a legal representative who specialises in family law matters. They may help you find a way to settle your issues without having to go to court or provide invaluable assistance to help you negotiate the family court system.
There is a specific process to follow when commencing court proceedings in the Family Court of Australia. Depending on your legal matter, some steps may not be necessary.
Preparation And Filing Documents
It is essential that before filing application documents, you have a basic understanding of the family law process and the orders that you wish to initiate. Your lawyer can help you lodge an application with the Family Court as well help you to prepare an affidavit, which is your sworn statement containing details of the case.
You will need to provide a financial statement for property matters, which provides a comprehensive overview of your financial circumstances.
For urgent matters, you may be required to seek interim orders that can be put in place temporarily until final orders have been decided.
Initial Family Court Date
After the initiating application has been filed, the first court date usually occurs 6-12 weeks later. At this time, the Family Court will make procedural orders and provide details regarding what steps the parties need to take.
An interim hearing is required when the judge needs to make temporary or interim orders; it usually involves parties involved in parenting or property matters. The interim hearing is used mainly for urgent matters, such as family violence cases or parties who seek an injunction. For example, a party may need to obtain orders to monitor behaviour or seek urgent spousal maintenance. The interim hearing allows both lawyers to give short oral submissions about what orders should be made, with reference to evidence stated in their client’s affidavits. The judge will make a decision based on the affidavits and independent evidence provided.
An interim hearing can substantially increase the parties’ time dealing with their matter in the family court system.
A family dispute resolution or conciliation conference provides an opportunity for both parties to negotiate to reach a mutually agreeable decision. This can be an effective way to finalise property settlement matters. Using a third-party mediator can help keep the conversation on track and productive. Resolving disputes without the need to go to court can save a lot of time and money. After an agreement is reached, consent orders can be made to finalise the decision and make it legally binding.
If you are attending court for divorce or consent orders, then you will not be required to participate in family dispute resolution mediation, but if you are applying for parenting orders, then a FDR session is mandatory before attending court.
If the couple cannot reach an agreement, they will need to continue with their legal proceedings, and a judge will make a ruling on their behalf.
Child Dispute Conference
When a family law matter involves children and custody, a child dispute conference is often needed for appropriate recommendations to be made. A court-appointed family consultant will help parties reach an agreement and establish the main issues in dispute. The family consultant will prepare a report for the judge and make recommendations for how they should proceed. In some cases, they may recommend that an independent children’s lawyer be appointed.
Independent Children’s Lawyer
An independent children’s lawyer (ICL) acts in the best interests of the children. In cases where there is child abuse, issues regarding parental capacity, mental health or sibling separation, an ICL will often be appointed by the court. They will produce a report that will help determine what is in the children’s best interests.
The family court process stipulates that before a final hearing for parenting matters, all parties will need to be interviewed by a family consultant or psychiatrist appointed by the court. They will interview the children and the parents and observe interactions and the child’s relationship with both parents. They will compile a detailed family report that is provided to the parents, lawyers and the judge. The family consultants will draw conclusions and make recommendations in their detailed report as to what orders they believe are necessary and will be in the children’s best interests. At an interim hearing, the family report is often one of the only pieces of evidence that the court has to guide them when deciding what is in the child’s best interests. For parenting matters the importance and weight given to the family report are substantial as it can also be used in the final hearing during cross examination.
If both parties can not reach an agreement independently, they will be required to attend a final hearing. They can be a long, drawn out process that may take up to three days. Each party will be required to provide oral evidence and undergo a cross examination from the defendant’s lawyer. Expert witnesses will have an opportunity to provide evidence. Once all of the evidence is heard, each lawyer will make a final argument with reference to the law and the evidence provided. The judge will not make a final ruling at this time but will ask the parties to return at a later date with the final judgement. In many cases it will take a minimum of 18 months to reach a final hearing stage.
Ruling / Judgement
After the final hearing, the judge after assessing all the evidence, will provide their decision and supporting explanation within about three months. Both parties will be advised of the date and will be required to attend Family Court. After final orders have been made it is the last time that the parties will be required to attend court.
If a party wishes to appeal, the notice must be lodged within 28 days, along with supporting documentation. Appeals in family law are not common as the judgements are discretionary as there is room for scope. Individual decisions by a judge are based on evidence, and personal circumstances, making it hard to prove if the judge’s decision was made in error.
Mediation / Out Of Court Settlement
The fastest way to finalise a family law matter is to reach an agreement through mediation without going to court. A dispute resolution practitioner conducts mediation, and, in most cases, issues can be settled at the conciliation conference.
There are several benefits of mediation over a lengthy court process.
Parenting or property matters can be resolved faster as there will be no court appearances or visits to a legal team.
Mediation is a more cost-effective alternative than the Family Law Court process, as legal fees are expensive.
Parties have more control over the decisions and resolution as personal negotiation enables individuals to contribute to a mutually agreeable outcome.
Parties can formalise their agreement through consent orders or a parenting plan.
Length Of Family Court Process
The length of a Family Court hearing will vary depending on the individual circumstances. The most prolonged cases are those listed for a final hearing, where an agreement has not been reached before this time. Several factors can influence the timing of a federal circuit court case, including:
- The complexity of the case
- Parties unable to reach a mutual agreement
- Further applications filed by parties
- Interim hearings
- Delays in the court system
- Compulsory family dispute resolution mediation
- Delays in final orders decisions by the judge
The entire process in the family law courts can take anything from 18 months to three years to complete.
The Family Court in Australia deals with a variety of matters, including parental, property and financial. Depending on your circumstances, the court process and timings will vary.
Several factors can influence the timing, including; complex matters, an interim hearing for family violence cases or parties unable to reach a mutual agreement. The entire process can take anything from 18 months to three years to complete.
Before attending Family Court, you should seek legal advice from a specialist in family law matters. They may help you find a way to settle your issues without having to go to court.
The fastest way to finalise a family law issue is to reach an agreement through mediation without going to court. A dispute resolution practitioner conducts mediation and, in most cases, can settle issues at the conciliation conference.
1. How Long Do Family Court Hearings Take?
Answer: The length of a Family Court hearing will vary depending on the individual circumstances. The most prolonged cases are those listed for a final hearing, where an agreement has not been reached before this time. Several factors can influence the timing, including the case’s complexity, including an interim hearing, further applications filed by parties or delays in the court.
The entire process can take anything from 18 months to three years to complete.
2. What Is Dealt With In Family Court?
Answer: Family court deals with cases covered under family law, including parenting arrangements, financial and property matters, such as divorce, property settlement, child custody, domestic violence, de facto relationships and financial issues.
The Federal Circuit Court website provides comprehensive information on all areas relating to family law and references for support services and legal advice.
3. How Much Does It Cost To Go To Family Court In Australia?
Answer: Going to court can be a costly process. As well as court fees and filing fees, there are also substantial costs involved if you need a family lawyer. In some circumstances, the court may order one party to pay for the legal costs of the other.
Almost every procedure in the court will have a fee attached, such as initiating an application, an interim order, consent order application. An example in the Federal Circuit
Court a divorce application fee alone is $940.
Agreeing outside of Family Court is the most cost effective course of action.