Going to Court can be a daunting prospect and where possible we try to keep your matter from ending up there in the first place. Unfortunately, though some matters simply cannot be resolved without the need for Court proceedings.
The steps involved in the Court process may vary slightly between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. Even within individual registries of those Courts, procedures can be different.
We provide below a brief summary of usual Court events.
Directions hearing/case assessment conference
The first event in the Court process is a directions hearing or case assessment conference. This event is essentially an administrative event which involves the Court assessing the issues and formulating a plan to drive the matter to resolution. In property matters the Court would normally direct that disclosure of documents be exchanged, valuations be obtained where appropriate, and arrangements are made for a conciliation conference or mediation to take place. In a children’s matter orders may be made for the attendance at a child inclusive conference and later for the preparation of a family report.
Throughout the course of the matter it may be necessary for orders to be made on an interim or temporary basis pending final resolution. That may involve for example, in a children’s matter, interim orders as to the care arrangements for the children. In a property matter it may involve arrangements for partial distribution of assets or for payments to be made on an interim basis pending trial. Sometimes the first Court event involves both a directions hearing and an interim hearing.
In a property matter the Court will direct the parties to participate in a conciliation conference or private mediation. A conciliation conference is hosted by the Court and chaired by a Court Registrar. A private mediation is arranged independently of the Court with a mediator jointly appointed by the parties. This is the best opportunity for a matter to resolve without the need to proceed to a trial.
Pre-trial conference/call-over/directions hearing
If a matter is not resolved by way of mediation or conciliation conference then the Court will have at least one further event at which time the matter is prepared for a trial. At that time directions will be made for the filing of any material (updated affidavits, valuations, family reports etc.) to ensure that the matter is fully prepared for a trial.
If, despite the best endeavours of the parties and the Court, the matter is unable to be resolved then it will proceed to a final hearing (trial) before a Judge. Trials are relatively rare and statistically only 4% of matters that commence the Court process end up proceeding to trial. In family law matters evidence is given by affidavit but a trial does involve parties, and witnesses being placed in the witness box and questioned regarding their evidence. Once the evidence is finished, submissions are made by barristers on behalf of both parties and the Judge makes a decision. Usually decisions are not pronounced immediately but are “reserved” to be handed down later after full and careful consideration.
If your matter ends up in Court, you can trust our experienced family law team to expertly represent you and guide you through the court process.