There are a number of courts which can deal with family law matters, whether parenting and/or financial matters between couples, whether marriage or de facto relationships. Choosing the right court can save time, money or both, and the choice is one which family lawyers have to make all the time for their clients.
There are three courts which can deal with family law matters, the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and the Local Courts or Magistrates Courts, which are State courts.
The Family Court was the original court for family law matters. It has various levels of judicial officers who all have different powers to deal with different matters. Judges of the Family Court have the widest powers. At the present time, the Family Court deals with the longer and more complicated cases, and with appeals.
Some years ago the Federal government created the Federal Magistrates Court, which was designed to provide a quicker, cheaper and less formal process to deal with family law matters.
The day to day administration of the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court is virtually unified. The same premises are used, the same staff handle document filing and the same Registrars handle registrars' functions for both courts. Registrars are qualified lawyers, who deal with divorces, procedural hearings and chair conciliation conferences, which is a form of mediation conducted in-house. The Federal government has indicated that it proposes to unify the two courts, so that presumably the Federal Magistrates Court will become the lower division of the one court.
The State Local or Magistrates Courts do have a limited jurisdiction under the Family Law Act, which is most often used in regional areas where the Family Court or the Federal Magistrates Court do not sit frequently. A State Magistrate can make orders which are agreed to, but otherwise must transfer a matter to one of the Family Law courts. In this situation, the court can make interim or temporary orders which will take effect until a Family Law court orders otherwise.
The final complication is that cases can be commenced in any court registry, regardless of where the parties live - there are no fixed boundaries for each court registry. However, the court has the power to direct where a case should be heard, usually based on where the parties and/or children live, or property is located. Choosing a registry can be a problem when, say, one party has moved interstate.
Choosing the appropriate Court in which to commence proceedings can involve other factors, and can include “local knowledge” of which Court best serves the needs of the client. It is recommended you ask your family lawyer which Court is best for my matter, and why.
For assistance with Family Law matters, phone Dominic Wilson, Managing Partner of Craddock Murray Neumann, on (02) 82684000. We have Family Lawyers who are certified by the Law Society of New South Wales as Accredited Specialists in Family Law.