Transferring proceedings from one Registry to another in Family Law cases

What happens to a family law matter when one or both of the parties has moved interstate?

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This presents no problem to family lawyers because Family Law is a Federal jurisdiction, which means the same law is applied all throughout Australia, and all Orders made in the Family Law Courts can be enforced in any State or Territory of Australia. However, despite the law being the same in all States and Territories of Australia, there remains the question in which Court Registry the matter will be heard.

The following locations in Australia have a Family Law Court and Federal Circuit Court sitting full time – both of which hear family law disputes under the Family Law Act 1975:

  • Sydney (Sydney City and Parramatta);
  • Newcastle;
  • Brisbane;
  • Darwin;
  • Perth;
  • Melbourne (Melbourne City and Dandenong);
  • Tasmania;
  • Adelaide; and
  • Canberra.

However, in each State and Territory in Australia, a Judge of the Court(s) will also travel around to Regional Areas periodically to hear and determine cases in Regional Areas. This is called a Circuit and the Circuits are:

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NSW Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Lismore, Orange, Tamworth, Wollongong
QLD Cairns, Mackay, Rockhampton, Townsville
NT Alice Springs
WA No circuit
VIC Ballarat, Mildura
TAS Launceston, Burnie
SA Mount Gambier
ACT No circuit

Therefore, there are a myriad of options for where a person may wish to commence and run any necessary family law proceedings. Usually, an Applicant will commence proceedings in the Court Registry nearest to where they live. In the case of a Regional Area – and especially if the matter is urgent – then an Applicant may lodge their Application in the nearest location that has a permanently sitting Court. For those living in a Regional Area, a permanently sitting Court may have the time and resources available to hear a matter much faster than is possible than with a quarterly Circuit Court sitting closer to home. As a general rule, Court proceedings will continue to finality in the Registry where the Application is lodged. However, from time to time, there may be good reasons why a party (particularly the Respondent) may seek to have the matter transferred to another Registry.

Common examples where a transfer of Registry may be requested are:

  • 1.Where there has been re-location by one or both parties after separation and there are geographical barriers to one or both parties accessing the Court or associated services at the Registry where the matter has been commenced;
  • 2.Where a matter has been commenced in circumstances of urgency (warranting the Application being lodged in a permanently sitting registry) but the urgency has been dealt with or otherwise faded away, such that the later transfer to a Regional Registry can happen without disadvantage to either party or children; or
  • 3.Where the matter is a parenting case and the children’s lives will be unnecessarily disrupted due to having to travel to see an Independent Children’s Lawyer, participate in a Child Inclusive Conference, or to meet with an Expert.

In all these circumstances, it may be appropriate for a litigant to seek a transfer of the proceedings from one Registry of the Court to another. Before making such an Application, it is important to note that all Courts hearing family law matters have the power to permit litigants to either attend Court events by phone or video link, or otherwise to be excused from personal attendance if their lawyer is present in Court on their behalf. These kinds of arrangements are possible by way of simply making a request of the Court no less than seven (7) days before the Court event. Attendance by electronic.

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