In Australia, both the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Law Court hear family law matters. Which court you file your application for a family law matter to be heard in usually depends on the complexity of the dispute.
The Family Law Court’s purpose is to assist in determining the most complex family law matters, while the Federal Circuit Court assists in determining less complex family law matters, as well as general law matters in the federal jurisdiction.
1. What is a “complex” family law matter?
If you have separated from your spouse or partner, and are facing family law proceedings, you may very well consider the matter to be “complex”. However, the Family Law Court specifically considers “complex” family law disputes to be matters that involve issues of:
- International child abduction;
- International relocation;
- Disputes as to whether the case should be heard in Australia;
- Special medical procedures (e.g. gender reassignment);
- Contravention of parenting orders made within 12 months of filing;
- Serious allegations of sexual or physical abuse of a child;
- Serious allegations of family violence;
- Complex legal issues regarding jurisdiction or law;
- Matters exceeding four days of hearing time;
The Federal Circuit Court hears the majority of family law disputes which involve parenting and financial matters, child support and maintenance, divorce, contraventions, injunctions and location and recovery of children.
2. Are there any differences between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court?
Both courts will apply the Family Law Act (1975) to determine your family law dispute.
There are different sets of rules and forms for each court. Whilst the Federal Circuit Court is governed by the Federal Circuit Court Rules (2001), the Family Law Court is governed by the Family Law Rules (2004).
The Family Court is more formal court and a superior court to the Federal Circuit Court. A decision made in the Federal Circuit Court may be appealed to the Family Court within 28 days of the decision.
3. What happens if I file in the wrong court?
Whilst both courts have the power to transfer matters to the correct court, filing in the wrong court may be timely and costly. It is important to seek professional legal advice prior to filing any Family Law application, to avoid unnecessary delays and expenses.