A new procedure for Applications to the Federal Circuit Court comes into effect on 1 March 2020 in the Melbourne (but not Dandenong), Adelaide, Brisbane and Paramatta (not Sydney) Registries of the Court.
The new procedure will apply to cases where the total net assets of the parties, including each of their superannuation funds, are under $500,000. “Net assets” means taking off any debt, such as a mortgage. The new process will be known as PPP(Priority Property Pools)500.
While the old procedure involved issuing an Application, an Affidavit setting out the party’s case and a Financial Statement, the new regime involves only an Application (as in the existing form) and a new Financial Summary (“Summary”). The Summary is an expanded version of the present Financial Statement. The Summary asks whether the parties have been to Mediation to try to resolve the matter and it encourages them to do so, but that is apparently not essential before issuing a property or spousal maintenance application.
The Court’s Practice Direction announcing these changes says that:
“The purpose of this practice direction is to achieve a just, efficient and timely resolution of PPP500 cases, at a cost to the parties that is reasonable and proportionate to the circumstances of the case.”
If the matter cannot be resolved through Mediation, the Practice Direction mentions “providing an opportunity for a less adversarial trial (that is, less arguing in Court) or a hearing on the papers” (where the Judge reads the Court documents filed by each party and then hears submissions by both parties or their lawyers before making a decision – the parties would not give oral evidence in that case). This process is not available where there are parenting issues.
For property or spousal maintenance applications where the net asset pool is more than $500,000, the existing Federal Circuit Court arrangements continue – that is, with an Application, Affidavit and the old Financial Statement document.
The alternative process, where a property or spousal maintenance application is issued in the Family Court, with an Application and the old Financial Statement leading directly to a Case Assessment Conference with a Court Registrar where settlement may be reached, will still be available.
We have been hearing about “faster, cheaper, less adversarial” Court processes for decades. Let’s hope this one is more successful than its predecessors.