Merged court system should benefit vulnerable families

Michelle Meares

Central Coast Families who experience separation and divorce and need to go to court to resolve their parenting and property issues will now be part of a new merged Family Court system.

On September 1, the previous two Courts which dealt with Family Law matters (the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) were merged into the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

Michelle Meares of Meares Law at Terrigal said Family Courts in Australia have been struggling with significant delays caused by inadequate funding.

“Many families on the Coast have experienced the costs and emotional distress caused by those delays in resolving their parenting arrangements and property matters following separation,” she said.

“Now for the first time in 21 years, there is a single point of entry, one set of court rules and forms, and a new purpose-built court website.

“There is a new and consistent approach to case management nationally, where the Court’s Judicial Registrars will triage every case, and assess for risk, soon after they have been filed in the Court.

“Here on the Central Coast, which has one of the highest domestic violence rates in the state, this will help protect vulnerable families and children.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Family Courts swiftly implemented online hearings and these have been relatively successful in keeping matters moving through the system despite the restrictions on movement and extended lockdowns.

“These innovations will continue to be used as COVID-related restrictions are eased, to ensure improved safety and access to justice for vulnerable parties and people living in regional areas.

“The new focus of online hearings will help reduce the need for family law litigants on the Central Coast from having to travel to Newcastle, Parramatta or Sydney for hearings and reduce the legal costs due to limited need for travel.

“If it is safe to do so, parties in the new Court system will be encouraged to engage with dispute resolution opportunities before, and throughout, the court process.

“For the cases that are not suitable to resolve by dispute resolution, the Court’s aim over time is to resolve more than 90 per cent of family law matters within 12 months to reduce the time, cost and stress associated with litigation.”

Meares, who is Secretary of the Central Coast Regional Law Society and a Councillor of the Law Society of NSW, launched Meares Law at Terrigal the day the new system came into effect.

With more than 10 years’ experience in the legal industry she has been practising on the Central Coast since 2014.

She was a Finalist for Regional Lawyer of the Year in the NSW Womens Lawyer’s Association Awards in 2019.

Meares sits on the Family Law Committee, the Privacy and Data Law Committee, the Ethics Committee and the Professional Conduct Committee of the Law Society of NSW.

She provides probono family law advice for clients of the Central Coast Community Legal Centre.

Meares Law offers expert legal advice in relation to family law matters (property and parenting), privacy and data law, personal injury matters, abuse law and wills and estate planning.

Media release, Sep 10
Meares Law