The Family Court is the second busiest division of the District Court, after the criminal division.
When the court was established in 1980 through the Family Court Act, it was mandated to deal with what were perceived as inherently "family issues" such as the dissolution of marriage, disputes over relationship property and the care of children.
Much in society has changed in the last 40 years and the court’s jurisdiction now looks vastly different. These days it is also tasked with responsibilities around family violence, compulsory mental health and addiction treatment, civil unions and minors seeking to marry. Recently the registration of gender came within the Family Court’s mandate, in keeping with the evolving understanding of identity, currently a topical issue in the law.
In all, the Family Court administers more than 20 legal statutes which reflect the wide range of issues and problems that impact the lives of families, and where the court may be asked or required to assist or adjudicate when there is a dispute. These issues range from adoption, surrogacy, guardianship, child abduction, and State care and protection to wills and estates, and the protection of personal and property rights of the vulnerable elderly.
The court values the ability of parties to resolve their own matters too, and counselling, conciliation and mediation are an integral part of the Family Court’s work.
With such a wide jurisdiction, the Family Court sees a huge number of applications, with more than 60,000 filed each year.
Although the Family Court is a forum for personal and private disputes, it is not a “private” or “closed” court. Media may attend most proceedings and report on them, within the statutory restrictions around identification of children and young people or for those people legally defined as vulnerable.
Comparing the current Fiscal year to the previous Fiscal year has seen:
• New business decrease by 947 applications (-2%)
• Disposals decrease by 478 applications (-1%)
• Active applications increase by 3,261 applications (+13%)