The Federal Circuit Court will adopt a new process for dealing with applications for property and/or spousal maintenance orders in an effort to streamline management of those matters.
On the first court date for hearing an application for property and/or spousal maintenance orders, the parties will appear before a Registrar rather than a Judge, for directions to get the matter ready for mediation or other dispute resolution service.
The new procedures will only apply to applications for orders for property and/or spousal maintenance orders. All other matters will be listed before a Judge. If consent interim orders cannot be reached in relation to matters such as interim spousal maintenance, partial property settlement or litigation funding then the matter will be referred to a Judge.
The new process will divert applications which only seek final property orders at the first Court date from Judges busy lists to Registrars who will oversee a matter and ensure it progresses in a timely way. The Registrar will make any orders necessary to keep the matter on track for dispute resolution, for example, if the Application does not set out the orders sought, or the Respondent has not filed a Response then the matter may be listed for further mention within 14 days to allow time for filing amended Court Forms. If the timelines for producing documents or filing material are not observed, then the Registrar has the power to award costs against the defaulting party.
Steps to ready a matter for dispute resolution which will come under the Registrar’s ambit include:
- Exchange of disclosure documents
- Exchange schedule of assets and liabilities
- Exchange panels of experts
- Arrange valuations of property and superannuation
- Notify the Trustee of a Superannuation fund if a splitting order is sought
These steps should be completed within 4 weeks of the first Court date, if not completed prior to filing the Application.
The next Court event will be the application to the Registrar for orders for dispute resolution. These orders may be made by consent if all the steps and procedural orders have been completed.
Before the Registrar will make orders for the parties to attend dispute resolution however, parties or their solicitors must write to the Court and certify that all the steps have been completed.
Under the new process parties will generally appear before the Registrar on no more than two occasions and if the matter is not resolved within 90 days then the it will return to the Court list to be mentioned before a Judge and thereafter managed by the Judge in their list. If the parties agree on final orders, then the Registrar can make the orders in Chambers without any further appearances.
The new process will assist self- represented litigants and is designed to ensure compliance with Family Court Rules by all parties. It may reduce delays as parties compete for time before a limited number of Judges and increase the likelihood of effective dispute resolution. It will also free up Judges to hear parenting matters in a timelier manner.