It seems like an obvious answer to an obvious question – if I have a Family Law matter then I’ll use the Family Court, right? Actually, there are a few courts which have jurisdiction to hear these types of cases. In Australia, Family Law issues are governed by the Family Law Act, which is a set of Federal Laws that are applied nationally across the following courts:
- Federal Circuit Court
- Family Law Court
- Family Court of Western Australia
- Local/ Magistrates’ Court
Deciding Which Court to Use
Family Court of Western Australia
This court is specific to Western Australia and has jurisdiction to hear all Family Law matters regardless of whether they are State or Federal based. This means that issues such as surrogacy and adoption can be dealt with in the same court as parenting and financial matters – this is different to the rest of Australia.
Family Court of Australia
The Family Court is reserved for complex matters. Complex issues may include allegations of child sexual or physical assault or where the hearing is expected to last for more than three days. As the cases in this court are more complex, it generally takes around two years or more to resolve a matter.
Federal Circuit Court
The majority of cases are heard in this court, including divorce. It is also usually a faster process as cases take between six to twelve months to resolve. If you begin in the Federal Circuit court but your matter becomes more complex, then it may be transferred to the Family Court instead.
Local Court/ Magistrates’ Court
For parties who live far away from the main courts, such as those who live in country towns, they may be able to initiate Family Law proceedings at their Local Court. However, there is limited capacity in these courts due to jurisdiction and resources. It may be possible to reach interim orders but matters may eventually need to be transferred to a superior court such as the Family or Federal Circuit Court.
Your case will be heard in the court that you apply at, regardless of where you live. Also, if you are applying for Legal Aid you will need to apply in the same state that you lodged your Legal Aid application.
Eg: If you apply to the Federal Circuit Court in Wollongong, your matter will be heard in Wollongong.
Eg: If you apply for Legal Aid in NSW, you must file your application in a court in NSW.
If you need help deciding which court to file in, we can help.