Which court am I in?

Which Family Law Courts in exist in Australia?

Family Law in Australia is an area of federal jurisdiction.    This means that the  same  law is applied across all States and Territories (with some differences in Western Australia).

There are 2 Courts that generally deal with family law matters:-

  1. The Family Court of Australia;
  2. The Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Local State Courts have some powers to deal with family law matters, but only if all parties agree.

Any Court that is dealing with a family law matter applies the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).

The Family Court of Australia has locations in major cities across Australia. You can find out more about the Family Court of Australia at www.familycourt.gov.au.

The Federal Circuit Court also has its principal locations in major cities across Australia. However, it also conducts regular ‘circuits’, where the court sits in a variety of regional centres including Port Macquarie/Wauchope and Coffs Harbour.  You can find out more about the Federal Circuit Court at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au .

What is the difference between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court?

Both courts are able to hear matters on family law including parenting, child support and property distribution.

Each court tends to focus on different areas within family law, and depending on your circumstances, one court will be the more appropriate choice.

There are several issues to keep in mind when making this decision, for example the location of the court (including any regional venues).

Note well:   If you wish to apply for Legal Aid in a particular State or Territory, you will need to file your application in a court in that same State or Territory.

The Federal Circuit Court

The Federal Circuit Court deals with less complex cases, and tends to finalise matters more quickly than the Family Court. It hears the vast majority of divorce applications and child support applications. When in court, you should refer to the Judge as “Your Honour”.

Matters likely to be heard in the Federal Magistrates Court include:

  • All divorce applications
  • Applications for orders to resolve parenting and financial disputes
  • Breaches of family law court orders
  • Distribution of property and superannuation interests

When filing an application in the Federal Circuit Court, it is a requirement that an affidavit be included. An affidavit is a sworn statement which supports your evidence or allegations. You can find out more about affidavits on the factsheet “Affidavits” produced by the Federal Circuit Court.

The Family Court of Australia

The Family Court, as a superior court, tends to deal with more complex cases. Matters likely to be heard in the Family Court include:

  • Applications for consent orders
  • Parenting cases involving child welfare agencies
  • Parenting cases which involve allegations of severe family violence, sexual abuse, mental health issues, international child abduction or relocation and special medical procedures
  • Financial cases where there are multiple parties, complex trust interests, corporate structures or difficult superannuation issues
  • Nullity of marriage applications
  • Appeals from the Federal Magistrates Court

Cases can be transferred between the two courts as the courts see fit. They may or may not take your wishes into consideration. For example, a matter which begun in the Federal Magistrates Court may be transferred to the Family Court if it becomes more complicated.

 What documents do I need to file?

Each Court has different procedures.  You should refer to the Family Law Court’s fact sheet “Applying to the Court for Orders” which sets out which documents are required for each Court.

What will happen at Court?

Each court appearance may be different, and have different outcomes.   The main thing to be aware of is that you must attend Court on the designated date and time.  If you do not, Orders may be made in your absence that are not favourable to you.

An excellent source of information is the Federal Circuit Court’s fact sheet “The first Court event – helpful information”, which you should read before your first Court date.  You should also read the Family Law Court’s fact sheet “Going to Court – tips for your Court hearing” which deals with other types of Court events.

The Family Law Court’s fact sheet “Legal words used in Court” is a handy reference guide to have with you so that you understand the words being used.

 Legal advice

Just because you have decided to represent yourself does not mean that you are not entitled to seek legal advice to assist you with representing yourself.  The local providers of free legal advice are:-

Taree Free Legal Aid Clinic . Bookings 65523850

Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre. Bookings 65802111

Please note: This factsheet contains general information only. It does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact a solicitor.