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The Family Law Courts: A Shared Jurisdiction

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The family law system in Australia is supported by two Courts with jurisdiction to hear family law matters: the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (previously the Federal Magistrates Court).  In some circumstances, a Magistrates Court or Local Court may also deal with family law issues.

There is significant overlap in the roles of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, which share some infrastructure (such as Court registries) but have distinct Justices/Judges and rules of Court.  Both Courts have jurisdiction to hear a wide range of parenting and financial matters.

The core differences between the Courts lie in the types of matters they are intended to hear. 

Typically, the Family Court hears more complex cases including those relating to international child abduction, international relocation of children, special medical procedures, serious allegations of sexual or physical abuse or complex questions of jurisdiction or law.  It is a Court of superior jurisdiction with wide ranging powers.

The Federal Circuit Court hears more day-to-day cases which are not expected to be overly complex or lengthy, and in addition to family law matters hears cases about general federal law.  At the time of its inception in 2000 (as the Federal Magistrates Court) the rules of the Court were designed to be less onerous and formal than those of the higher Courts to create greater access to justice.  All Applications for Divorce are heard in the Federal Circuit Court.

Matters commenced in one Court may be transferred to the other upon an application of one or both of the parties to the proceedings or at the initiative of the Court.

If you are considering commencing proceedings in the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court please contact our Family Law team by email family@mst.com.au or by telephone +61 8540 0200.