Who can use the Family Law Act?

1 People wishing to divorce, obtain a property settlement, spousal maintenance or an order for protection;

2 People wishing to obtain a parenting order for their children or orders in relation to the protection of their children;

3 An unmarried mother wishing to obtain child-bearing expenses from the father of her child;

4 Any other person with an “interest” in the welfare of a child (e.g. grandparents); and

5 A child.

The spirit of the FLA and its Rules, Regulations and hierarchical administration is to endeavour to conciliate and negotiate disputes in their early stages.

Counselling for parties in disputes over children is nearly always ordered as a first step. Similarly, conciliation conferences with a Registrar of the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court are a mandatory step in pursuing a property application. However, where parties cannot resolve their dispute it will progress through the lists of the court to a final contested hearing in front of a judge.

Until relatively recently only married couples (or couples who were married and since separated) could use the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court to sort out arguments over property or maintenance for themselves. Property disputes between people who were, or who had been, living in a de facto relationship were required to be commenced in the state courts, since without a marriage the FLA did not provide jurisdiction to the court to hear their disputes. However property disputes between unmarried couples who had previously been in a de facto relationship may now be heard under the FLA if the couple separated after 1 March 2009. These “de facto” relationships include same-sex relationships. The new laws enable de facto couples to access the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court for property and spousal maintenance. Separated de facto couples can now apply for orders regarding the distribution of property or financial resources such as superannuation, partner maintenance and disputes about binding financial agreements. For further information see Same-sex and de facto couples and families.