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Changes in the late 1990s to the federal court structure has meant that there are now two courts that have jurisdiction to resolve family disputes: the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Circuit Court (FCC) deals with the majority of family law cases that arise, while the Family Court deals with more complex or lengthier proceedings. The FCC hears matters that take less than three days. The FCC also hears matters concerning property more often than the Family Court.

The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court share jurisdiction over many matters in the area of family law. Both have jurisdiction over family law, and both focus on alternative dispute resolution methods for resolving legal disputes. Both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court stress dispute resolution alternatives to litigation. Both courts have jurisdiction over both marriage and de facto relationships. Both courts also provide e-filing for divorce, initiating applications and response to initiating applications, to speed up and simplify the process of divorce.

Family Court – exclusive jurisdiction

The Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the validity of marriages and divorces, and adoption. It is also the court which deals with more difficult issues of family law, such as:

  • international child abduction
  • international relocation
  • special medical procedures
  • serious allegation of sexual abuse of a child
  • serious allegations of physical abuse of a child

The Family Court also hears disputes over whether a case should be heard in Australia, and also complex questions of jurisdiction and law. The Federal Circuit Court will deal with many of the smaller scale issues in family law. There is a large body of publications available on the Family Court website concerning all aspects of the Family Court process.

Federal Circuit Court and Family Court: overlap

The Federal Circuit Court was created in 1999 in order to relieve the court loads on the Federal and Family Courts of Australia. The rules and procedures of the court are generally less formal than other courts, making the processes of court more accessible and quicker.

Whilst both the Family and Circuit Courts deal with normal family law issues such as divorce, separation, maintenance, and child support, the Federal Circuit Court will hear the majority of divorce applications in Tasmania. As the Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the more complex or sensitive cases, as noted above, so the Federal Circuit Court takes the burden of more typical cases, such as separation or divorce.

The Federal Circuit Court has the jurisdiction to determine applications concerning:

  • Orders to resolve parenting and financial disputes
  • Spousal and de facto maintenance
  • Property disputes
  • Divorce
  • Contravention applications (alleging a breach of a court order)
  • Enforcement of orders made by either the Federal Circuit or Family Court
  • Location and recovery orders as well as warrants for the apprehension or detention of a child
  • Determination of parentage and recovery of child bearing expenses
  • Applications for injunctions
  • Superannuation (which can now be considered property in a divorce or separation)

The Federal Circuit Court is a quicker and cheaper option for parties to proceedings. If a matter proves to be more complex or lengthy than initially thought, a party to the litigation can apply to have the proceedings transferred to the Family Court. The Federal Circuit Court can also do this on its own motion.

All divorce applications should be filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC). The process costs less in the FCC. The Federal Circuit Court shares registry facilities with the Family Court of Australia. These are located on Davey St, across from St David’s Park.

The Federal Circuit Court sits two days a month, and there are court lists available online through the FCC website. The Family Court of Australia only sits in Hobart when there is a trial to take place. The FCC takes care of the procedural matters of resolving divorces, settlements, maintenance, and issues with children. The FCA will only sit to hear complex matters, hence there is no court list available. The FCA may also be a closed court, depending on the subject matter of the hearing.

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