Settling your family law matter in the court system can be stressful, expensive, and most likely, a lengthy process. Understanding the timeline of court directions and procedure will help you prepare for the process.
This article provides the most important tips to help make the court process as smooth and productive as possible.
It is important to remember that court proceedings should be relied on as a last resort after all attempts made to negotiate a settlement.
We strongly recommend that you seek legal advice from an experienced family lawyer before commencing a court application.
Understanding the timeline for court hearings
Family law matters proceed through the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. There are four types of hearings that usually take place during family law proceedings in the court, these include:
- Direction Hearings or Mentions;
- Interim Hearings;
- Call overs; and
- Final Hearings.
Learning about proceedings in the FCFCA
They say knowledge is power, so we recommend you invest some time educating yourself about procedural issues and the law. If you have a family lawyer managing your matter, ask them to explain the process to you in simple language.
If your proceedings involve a property settlement, you should have a thorough understanding of the likely outcomes and property division. If your proceedings involve the care of children, you should ensure you understand the possible outcomes for orders and arrangements for your children.
If you are unable to pay for a lawyer to represent you, you can request an appointment for representation from a Legal Aid lawyer, or at the very least, seek legal advice in relation to hearings.
Identify the issues in dispute
It is imperative that you work out the legal issues you and your ex-partner cannot agree on. Clarify what you want to achieve from the hearing, and understand the other party’s wants.
When the differences between each party are clear, make a list of the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Plan how you will respond to any arguments made by the other party in relation to weaknesses in your matter.
Ensure that you:
- have relevant documents ready to hand to the Judge or in your sworn affidavit;
- have prepared written submissions to be handed up to the Judge;
- include a chronology of events, if appropriate;
- write out the orders you are seeking.
Doing the above, even if you have legal representation, will assist your lawyer preparing your case and may even save you costs in legal fees.
The court can only consider evidence that is relevant to your matter and ‘admissible’ (i.e., able to be used in court). Evidence is usually admissible if it supports a party’s argument, or helps to weaken the other party’s argument.
Be objective about the evidence required. The evidence must be directly linked to your argument.
Don’t use unnecessary evidence which may be distracting. At the same time, you must keep in mind your duty to disclose material relevant to the issues in dispute.
Sometimes evidence that might seem relevant can’t be used in court.
The rules surrounding evidence can be complex so we strongly recommend you seek legal advice in relation to the evidence you will be relying on.
During the hearing
The general dress code for court is business attire, you should ensure you look neat and tidy. When entering and leaving the court room, it is etiquette to bow to the Judge and always stand when the Judge speaks to you. Ensure that your mobile phone is switched off. Following good court etiquette gives the Judge an indication of your character.
Remaining calm and reasonable in court, regardless of how heated arguments become, is very important as it shows the Judge that you are generally a calm and reasonable person.
When the Judge asks you a question, ensure you directly answer that specific question. Courts are under pressure from time constraints and appreciate direct and straightforward answers to questions.
The court conducts hearings both in person and electronically via video link and telephone. This is referred to as ‘video conferencing’. The court will advise if your matter is listed for a remote hearing.
Electronic hearings are conducted as proper and formal court hearings which means the usual Rules of Court, court procedures and etiquette are expected to be complied with.
You can request your hearing be conducted electronically (using the relevant form which can be found on the court website). The court may also direct that the hearing be held via video link or telephone.
How do I find out where and how my hearing will take place?
You can usually find the above information by checking court orders, if your hearing was listed when the judge or registrar made the orders, or in emails or letters about your matter from the court. If your hearing is listed to be heard electronically, the court will send you or your lawyer an email with instructions on how to join the hearing and what documents you will need to provide the court before the hearing date.
Preparing for a family court hearing involves a lot of work and is time consuming. Ensuring that you have all documentation required and a thorough understanding of court procedures is vital for a successful outcome.
If you know someone who could benefit from this advice please suggest they contact us on 02 4322 0251 or email [email protected].