How to run your family law case a do it yourself kit to help you prepare a family law case and represent yourself in court

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Federal Circuit Court

The Federal Circuit Court website explains the major stages in proceedings. The Federal Circuit Court Act and the Federal Circuit Court Rules set out the court powers and rules. You can see these on

The Federal Circuit Court aims to have cases heard as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. To help do this, the court uses a ‘docket’ system to keep cases before the same judge from first court date to final hearing.

Proceedings start when you apply to the court. Applications must be supported by an affidavit. When the application is filed, a first court date is given. Each party or their lawyer must go to court on this date.

On this first day in court (often called the ‘return date’ or ‘first return date’) the court may:

  • tell the parties what they need to do before the next court date

  • order the parties to do family dispute resolution

  • make a date for the next hearing or the final hearing

  • have an interim (short) hearing

  • make a final decision about the application.

Applications about property may be sent to a conciliation conference before any court hearing takes place. Applicants for parenting orders must have already completed family dispute resolution with the other party. There are exceptions to this.

See ‘Family dispute resolution and parenting orders’ in ‘Chapter one – Alternatives to going to court’.

There are also pre-action procedures in the Federal Circuit Court. Read the information on pre action procedures at:

On the first court date, the court will generally set a date for the final hearing of the application. The final hearing is where all parties present their evidence and have it examined.

The court aims to hear all cases within six months of filing (but there can be delays). The court tries to limit hearings to two days for hearing a family law case. If it is likely to be longer than this or is complex, a case may be sent to the Family Court.

The Federal Circuit Court may conduct an interim hearing and make interim (short-term) orders. An interim hearing looks at the issues that need to be decided in the short-term (for example, where the children will live) until a final decision can be made. If the matter is urgent, an interim hearing can be heard on the first court date if the court has time, or at the next earliest date. The Federal Circuit Court aims to limit the number of interim hearings in preference to giving a case an early final hearing. Interim orders can, however, be made at any time.

Usually, the Federal Circuit Court does not keep longer cases in its lists. These are sent to the Family Court. Occasionally, the court keeps a longer case because, for example:

  • the case is more complicated than the court first thought, or

  • it is in the interests of justice for the court to continue to hear the case.

Chapter four – Children

Words in bold are explained in ‘What do these words mean?’ at the front of this booklet.

The principles of children’s rights and parenting obligations are set out in Part VII (seven) of the Act. They apply to all children, whether or not their parents:

  • are married or were married

  • are or were living together (cohabiting)

  • have never lived together.

The court has to apply the Act to the facts of each case before making a decision about a child. The court’s main consideration is the best interests of the children. See Appendix three.

To decide this, the court looks at the factors in s.60CC (see box).

    The best interests of the children in s.60CC

    When making a parenting order, the court must look at the following primary (most important) and additional (other) considerations.

    The primary considerations are:

  • The benefit of children having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents.

  • The need to protect the children from physical and psychological harm. This includes children being physically or psychologically hurt, being neglected or seeing family violence.

  • Where the primary considerations conflict, then the court must give priority to protecting children from physical and psychological harm.

    The additional considerations are:

  • Children’s views – the court will look at how mature children are and how much they understand. Children do not have to express views if they do not want to.

  • What kind of relationship children have with their parents and any other people significant to them, including siblings, grandparents and other relatives.

  • The extent to which each parent has been involved with decisions about major long term issues about the children.

  • How much time each parent has spent with and communicated with the children.

  • Whether each parent has maintained the children or failed to do so. For example, paying child support or maintenance on time.

  • The likely effect of any change to where children have been living or staying. This includes separating them from either parent, siblings, grandparents and other relatives or other people important to their welfare.

  • The practical difficulty and expense of children seeing each parent, and whether that will affect their right to have a relationship with them. This includes the right to spend time with and/or communicate with each parent.

  • How much each parent and any other person (including grandparents and other relatives) can provide for the children’s physical, emotional and intellectual needs.

  • The maturity, sex, lifestyle and background (including culture and traditions) of the children and of each parent, and anything else about the children that the court thinks is important.

  • The rights of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children to enjoy their culture, including with others of that culture.

  • Each parent’s attitude to the children and to the responsibilities of being a parent.

  • Any family violence involving the children or a member of their family.

  • Any family violence order that applies to children or a member of their family.

  • Whether the order will mean less risk of everyone coming back to court.

  • Anything else the court thinks is important.

    If the court is making a consent order (an order where all the people involved agree), the court may (but does not have to) consider the primary and additional considerations in deciding the children’s best interests (s.60CC(5)).
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