The Court Pathway: What are the steps involved in getting to a final trial?

With the merging of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia in 2021, the Court published a Central Practice Direction which set out the general pathway a matter should follow from start to finish. While the below offers great insight to parties wanting an idea of how their matter will unfold, it is important to keep in mind that ultimately, the Court retains the discretion and flexibility to depart from the below pathway for matters where it is determined to be appropriate to do so.

  1. First Court Event

    The First Court Event is the first time your matter will be before the Court after each parties’ documents have been filed with the Court. The purpose of the First Court Event is for the Judicial Registrar to determine whether there are any Orders which both parties consent to being made, and what matters need to be attended to by the parties in order to get the matter on track to finalisation – this can include a range of outcomes such as Orders for disclosure documents to be exchanged, parties to attend to mediation and directions for a matter to progress to an Interim Hearing.

  1. Interim Hearing

    Not all matters will require an interim hearing before a Senior Judicial Registrar or a Judge, only those where one or more parties are seeking that the Court make an interim order (as opposed to a final order which falls under step 8 below).

    An example of an interim issue requiring an interim hearing in a property matter is where parties have separated and remain living in the same house, though tension is high and there may be concerns around family violence. One or both parties may seek that the Court make an interim order for the right to sole use and occupation of the former matrimonial property, to the exclusion of the other party.

    As above, an example of a common interim issue in parenting matters which would require an interim hearing is where one parent is withholding the child/ren and the other seeks an interim order for specific time with that child/ren.

    Interim issues are issues which cannot wait to be resolved at trial and therefore not all matters will require an interim hearing.

  1. Dispute Resolution

    While the Pre-Action Procedures impose an obligation on parties to attend mediation prior to commencing proceedings, it is at this stage in the court pathway that the parties will likely be ordered to attend a further alternative dispute resolution process, now with the benefit of any issues which were outstanding at the First Court Event addressed.

    Having regard to the means and resources of the parties to each particular dispute, the Court will consider both privately and publicly funded options for alternative dispute resolution.

  1. Mention

    Should your matter not settle during Dispute Resolution, it will be set down for a mention. A mention is short appearance before the Court to confirm that there are no outstanding steps that need to be attended to before the matter progresses to a Compliance and Readiness Hearing.

  1. Compliance and Readiness Hearing

    Following a Mention, a matter will then be set down for a Compliance and Readiness Hearing. Broadly, this is an opportunity for the Court to ensure that parties have made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute, complied with all obligations and Orders made up to this point and to assess whether there is any further preparation required for the matter to be trial ready.

  1. Trial Management Hearing

    Not all matters will require a Trial Management Hearing, though it is open as an option should the allocated trial Judge consider it is appropriate. A Trial Management Hearing may be set down for the purpose of considering any costs or other consequences to a party’s non-compliance with obligations or any other reason the allocated Judge considers appropriate.

  1. Final Hearing (Trial)

    A Final hearing, otherwise known as a trial, is the occasion on which your evidence will be presented to the allocated Judge in your matter for the Judge to make any determinations necessary to resolve your matter on a final basis. The number of days a Final Hearing is set down for is determined by the number of witnesses to be called, as well as the number of issues that remain in dispute.

  1. Judgement

    Judgement is where the Judge allocated to your matter has considered the evidence presented at the Final Hearing and delivers to the parties:

    1. The final Order which will be made in the matter; and
    2. The reasons behind why the final Orders are what they are.

    A final judgement may be delivered in writing or verbally.

To read about the approximate timelines for each of the above stages, click here.

If you would like to discuss any questions you may have in relation to the court pathway or your matter specifically, please contact our office to make an appointment.