IN THE NEWS: Fast Tracked Family Law Matters
“Women’s Economic Security Package to assist women exposed to family violence and streamline the Court service to couples with property pools under $500,000.”
In November 2018, a report provided by the Women’s Legal Service Victoria, identified a procedural roadblock preventing parties from accessing justice and reaching a timely, cost effective resolution in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The report from the Women’s Legal Service Victoria appealed for a “small claims” stream in the family law system.
The response to the report from the Women’s Legal Service Victoria was the creation of a new “pilot program” for some family law matters, namely those with a net property pool of $500,000 or less (including superannuation). Pursuant to Practice Direction 2 of 2020, from 1 March 2020, these cases, known as “Priority Property Pools under $500,000 Cases” or “PPP500 Cases” will be effective.
The purpose of this new stream of family law matters is twofold, namely: –
- To assist women who have been the victim of family violence by providing a timely, cost effective route to resolution their family law dispute; and
- Ensure families, with limited financial assets, do not exhaust these assets on legal expenses.
Purpose of the Program
Chief Justice Will Alstergren, the head of the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court, described the pilot program as improving “access to justice”.
The report from the Women’s Legal Service Victoria observed that there is a significant reluctance from women who have experienced family violence to pursuing in Court, their share of family assets. This reluctance is usually coupled with exposure to financially controlling behaviour by their spouse during the relationship.
The pilot program aims to assist women who have been subjected to family violence or financially controlling behaviour during their relationship by assisting them navigate the family law system, provide them with access to efficient alternate dispute resolution processes and minimise the animosity in proceedings.
The program also identifies that parties to family law proceedings, where the asset pool is not significant, would incur a small fortune in legal fees. The program seeks to reel back the legal costs incurred and appropriately match legal fees with the difficulty and issues in the matter.
Who Does the Program Apply to?
To be classified as a PPP500 Case, proceedings must be commenced in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, seeking an alteration of property interests for matrimonial or defacto assets.
It must also meet the following criteria: –
- The value of the net assets of the parties (including superannuation) is less than $500,000; and
- There are no companies or other commercial entity such as a family trust, company, or SMSF, that requires a further expert valuation; or
- The Court makes a declaration that the matter is assigned as a PPP500 case.
A PPP500 matter is unable to be established if either party is seeking Orders in relation to parenting, child support / child maintenance or enforcement of Orders.
Steps in a PPP500 Case
An emphasis on “Registrar-Led” resolution was a major focus of the PPP500 Case program.
There are six (6) primary steps in the PPP500 Program, of which the first four (4) are Registrar-led and the last two (2) are Judge-led: –
- Before the First Court date, preliminary orders will be made by the Registrar in chambers in relation to the balance sheet and any preliminary valuation issues;
- The first Court date before a registrar, at which time, the balance sheet will be finalised and the matter will proceed to a conciliation conference, private mediation, Legal Aid conference or other alternate dispute resolution process;
- The parties engage in an Alternative Dispute Resolution Process;
- The parties attend the Second Court date for further directions, only if it was not settled during step 3 above;
- The parties have a Procedural hearing before a Judge in preparation for a Final Hearing and the Court will give directions in relation to the filing of evidence; and
- Final hearing (either Less Adversarial Trial, Trial on the papers or traditional Final Hearing).
The streamline program provides parties to family law proceedings with a prompt, cost effective and amicable regime to resolve disputes without the need for acrimony and prolonged proceedings.
If you have separated from your spouse or partner and the above applies to you, please contact Dorter Family Lawyers and Mediators to obtain assistance from one of our family lawyers. We are based in North Sydney and are available to assist you with your property settlement.
By Luke Meehan
Dorter Family Lawyers & Mediators Solicitor