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Family Court Vs Federal Circuit Court Jurisdiction

24th Mar 2021 Family Law
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Family Court merger that will see both the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court jurisdictions being merged into one due to the influx of cases that are currently overwhelming the existing systems. While this is a decision that has been met with a fair amount of criticism from over 155 stakeholders, as of 17 February 2021, the bill has been passed in the Senate and will go ahead as planned. In order to truly understand the situation, it is important that we differentiate the Family Court of Australia VS Federal Circuit Court jurisdictions. In today’s article, we have a look at just that and how the two courts differ.

Family Court

In line with the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the Family Court is responsible for handling and determining complex family law matters. It has jurisdiction to handle all family law matters with the exception of divorce. Some of the matters the Family Court deals with include:
  • Adoption
  • Validity of Marriage
  • Consent Orders
  • Matters exceeding a 4 day hearing time
  • International Relocation
  • International Child Abduction
  • Medical procedures such as gender reassignment
  • Allegations of child sexual abuse
  • Disputes as to whether a case should be tried in Australia

Federal Circuit Court

The Federal Circuit Court, also once known as the Federal Magistrates Court, has jurisdiction to handle a majority of Family and federal law disputes including divorce. The Federal Circuit Court was formed in order to assist the Family Court in relieving its workload and to better help families in complex or urgent situations. Due to this, the Federal Circuit Court often deals with a higher number of cases than the Family Court. In cases where a Family Court dispute is considered less complex, cases are often referred to the Federal Circuit Court. Some of such scenarios include:
  • Divorce
  • Child Support / Maintenance
  • Parenting Matters
  • Financial Matters
  • Contraventions
  • Location and recovery of children
  • Court Injunctions

Determining Which Court To File With

The general consensus is when in doubt, file with the Federal Circuit Court. Due to overlapping jurisdictions, it is always best practice to file in the Federal Circuit Court and allow the court to determine if your case should be transferred to the Family Court. It is not uncommon for families to sometimes file with the wrong court, and there is no need to worry if you do so as there are protocols in place for either the court or a party to transfer the matter to the relevant court.

The Merger

As mentioned at the start of this article, as of 17 February 2021, the Merger Bill that intends for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court to be amalgamated into one single court has been passed (Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFC). This merger intends to help bear the burden of the current system that is chronically under-resourced and over-burdened. Many critics fear that the merger will do more harm than good and may have devastating impacts on families as well as result in a loss of structural and systemic specialisation. As of March 2021, stakeholders continue to oppose the bill due to concerns over increased costs, delay and added stress for families.


If you have any questions about filing a case with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia (FCFC), do not hesitate to reach out today and one of our expert team members will be able to assist with any of your questions or concerns.