It can be difficult to be a self-represented party in family law matters (meaning you do not have legal representation). It is often the case that self-represented parties find the system overwhelming, especially in respect of the amount of paperwork and filing that is required, along with the stringent processes that must be followed when attending a court event. So, what do you need to know as a self-represented party in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA)?

Here are four key pieces of information that we consider would assist any self-represented party, or otherwise a represented party who wants to understand what is really happening when their legal representative (family lawyer) speaks:

1. Legal support services including the Family Advocacy Support Services and the Duty Lawyer Service are still available despite the Court transitioning to a predominantly online system.

Family Advocacy Support Services (FASS) provides free legal advice and support at court for people affected by domestic and family violence. The duty lawyer service is legal assistance provided by lawyers employed by the Legal Aid Commission or by private legal practitioners contracted by the Legal Aid Commission, to unrepresented parties at the FCFCOA.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and restrictions imposed by the government, in 2020, the FCFCOA moved to conduct all online hearings via Microsoft Teams or through the use of audio/visual technology. It has since been announced that directions hearings and interim hearings (for the most part) will continue to be conducted in this manner, while final hearings will return to being in person.

However, even though the majority of Court events will still be held remotely, the FASS and duty lawyer support services will continue to be available to anyone requiring assistance. You can learn more about these services by visiting the FCFCOA website.

2. Check the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia website for resources and tips.

When the FCFCOA was created on 1 September 2021, they also launched a new website which includes resources that are helpful for self-represented parties. These resources explain the various aspects of the FCFCOA processes and requirements.

The FCFCOA website also provides insights into Court etiquette, which sets out the level of formality required by the Court’s Judicial Officers regardless of whether you are attending in person or via audio/visual link. If you are representing yourself in Court, you will need to ensure you understand what these rules are. 

3. You will need to ensure that you have made genuine attempts to resolve your dispute.

There is an expectation by the Court that parties in family law matters will take all steps to resolve a dispute either in Family Dispute Resolution or by negotiating between themselves, and thereafter document in writing any agreements reached, or in circumstances where the dispute cannot be resolved, that they at least narrow the issues in dispute.

The Court offers both property conciliation conferences and parenting conferences, which are ordered in circumstances where:

  1. the risk of family violence is high;
  2. there are minimal funds available to the parties to fund private mediation; and
  3. where the matter has been in the system for a long time i.e., filed in 2018 but still hasn’t resolved or reached final hearing in 2022.

If you will be representing yourself in Court and need more information about Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) and the current Court processes, have a look at our article: What will the new FCFOA dispute resolution process look like?

4. Know what a Minute of Order is, and the kinds of Orders that you wish to seek.

When parties in a family law matter are required to participate in private mediation or any form of external Family Dispute Resolution, the parties must provide to the Mediator or practitioner a series of documents including a ‘minute of order’, which sets out the precise terms of orders required to settle the matter.

Often self-represented litigants are not aware what a ‘minute of order’ is, or how to properly word the settlement terms that they would like to seek. This can sometimes mean the matter fails to resolve itself properly, where otherwise it might have.

If you are representing yourself in court, it is incredibly important to not only inform yourself about what a minute of order is, but to familiarise yourself with the wording that can be used in the drafting of orders. There are often resources available to assist with this, and that can be found on the website of the Attorney-General’s department.

Seek legal advice for further assistance

Given the complexity often involved in family law matters, it is always recommended to seek legal advice from an experienced family lawyer.

If you would like further clarity on the process for attending dispute resolution, what happens in Court in family law matters, or you need assistance drafting any of the documents listed above, get in touch with Ivy Law Group’s capable family lawyers on 02 9262 4003 for a confidential discussion or submit an online enquiry.

The content of this article is intended as a general guide to the subject matter. For specific legal advice about your individual circumstances, please contact our experienced lawyers.

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