Family Law Matters

The Family Court of Australia has jurisdiction over family law matters that include marriage, divorce, de facto relationship, children, property disputes, and spouse maintenance.

The jurisdiction of the Family Court of Australia (Court) is extensive in matters covered by the Family Law Act 1975. The Court has jurisdiction over family law matters in all states and territories except in Western Australia. The Court consists of a Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Appeal Division Judges.

The enactment of the Family Law Act 1975 established the Family Court of Australia which started its operation on January 5, 1976. The Family Law Act is the governing law for marriage, de facto relationship and all related matters. The Court, except for Western Australia which has its own Family Court, covers matters that relate to marriage and divorce, parenting arrangements for the children of the spouses, property settlement and spouse maintenance. The jurisdiction of the Court continues to evolve and expand. Only in December 2000, the residence of the child can be determined by the Court in parenting proceedings.

The Court also has jurisdiction over de facto relationships, the breakdown of the relationship and related matters. However, unlike with marriage, the jurisdiction of the Court over a de facto relationship is limited to certain Australian territories and states. This limited jurisdiction was put in place by the insertion of a section in the Family Law Act effective March 1, 2009, which provides for the jurisdiction over de facto relationships to be geographically connected with certain participating territories and states.

These are the states and territories wherein the Family Court of Australia exercises jurisdiction over de facto relationships: New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Norfolk Island, Christmas Island or Cocos Islands.

The Federal Circuit Court also has jurisdiction over family law matters but the more complex cases are referred to the Court. The division of jurisdiction between the Federal Circuit Court and Court may be confusing and can lead to improper venue. The mistake in filing can be costly and time-consuming. So, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court issued a Protocol that serves as a guideline for family law litigants and practitioners on the proper venue for their cases.

  • Briefly, the following cases should be filed with the Family Court:
  • international child abduction and international relocation;
  • complex questions of law; special medical procedures like gender reassignment or sterilization; dispute whether the case should be heard in Australia;
  • serious allegations of child sexual abuse or physical violence against a child;
  • serious controlling family violence; applications for contravention orders in relation to parental proceedings that have reached a final stage of judicial determination.

The Protocol also provides that exclusive jurisdiction lies with the Federal Circuit Court over matters that pertain to adoption and the validity and nullity of marriages.

The Family Court of Australia being a higher court is the appropriate venue for appeals from decisions issued by the lower courts. Hence, aside from its primary jurisdiction the Family Court also has jurisdiction over appeals. The appeal may be decided by a single Judge or Justice or the Full Court.

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