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Glossary of Australian Family Law Terms

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This glossary provides a list of commonly used terms and phrases to assist you in your family law matter.  

Abuse 

In relation to a child, means (for the purposes of the Family Law Act 1975): 

  • an assault, including a sexual assault, of the child; or 
  • a person (the first person) involving the child in a sexual activity with the first person or another person in which the child is used, directly or indirectly, as a sexual object by the first person or the other person, and where there is unequal power in the relationship between the child and the first person; or 
  • causing the child to suffer serious psychological harm, including (but not limited to) when that harm is caused by the child being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence; or 
  • serious neglect of the child. 

Address for Service 

The address given by a party where Court documents and notices can be served  on them, ie. sent or given to them.

Adjourn 

Defer or postpone a court event to another day. 

Affidavit  

A written statement by a party or witness. It is the main way of presenting the facts of a proceeding to the Court. An affidavit must be signed before an authorised person (such as a Solicitor, Commissioner for Declarations or Justice of the Peace) by way of swearing on the Bible or attesting to the truth of the contents of the statement. The purpose of an Affidavit is to present evidence to the Court.  

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)  

Alternative dispute resolution is a process that aims to settle disputes out of court. This pathway is encouraged as the court process can be a lengthy and expensive process. By using ADR (which includes Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration and Family Dispute Resolution), parties can resolve disputes between themselves..  

Appeal 

A procedure which allows a party to challenge the decision made by a court. 

Applicant 

 The person who applies to a court for orders. 

 Application in a Proceeding 

The form used to make an application in a proceeding which has already commenced. It should be used by any person when seeking interlocutory, interim or procedural orders, if the orders were not sought in the original Initiating Application or Response. 

Child Impact Report  

 A written report prepared by a Child Court Expert (a psychologist or social worker) to provide information about the needs and experiences of the children to the Court, and to assist the Court in making a decision about what arrangements may be appropriate for the children. A Child Impact Report is sometimes  ordered by a Judicial Registrar or Judge at the beginning stages of court proceedings.  

For more information, click here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/child-impact-report-faq 

 Child Inclusive Conference 

 A Child Inclusive Conference is a meeting with a family consultant that is ordered by the Court and includes the adults and children involved in the matter. Lawyers are not included. The conference is intended to give the Court an understanding of the family situation, and particularly of the child/ren’s experience. The conference can help the judicial officer hearing the case make short-term decisions about arrangements for the child/ren. It may also help the parties reach an agreement. 

 Children’s Contact Centres and Services 

 Children’s Contact Centres and services aim to minimise a child’s exposure to conflict or unsafe situations. They provide safe, neutral and child-focused venues for supervised visits and changeovers to occur between children and their parents and other significant persons in the child’s life. They assist parents who are experiencing conflict to manage these arrangements. Children’s Contact Services work with families to encourage positive interaction between children and their parents, and to support the strengthening of these relationships.  

 Coercive Control  

Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour designed by the perpetrator to control another person within a personal relationship by causing them to fear for their or another person’s safety.  

 Conciliation Conference 

 A conference  which provides an opportunity for parties to resolve their dispute  with the assistance of a Judicial Registrar.   

 To find out more information, click here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/pubs/fl/conciliation-conference 

 Consent Order 

 A Consent Order is an agreement between the parties that has been approved by the Court, and has  become a legally binding and enforceable court order.  

 Contravention 

 When a court finds a party has not complied with (i.e. “followed”) a court order, that party is in contravention of (or has “breached”) the order. 

 Court Child Expert  

 Court Child Experts are qualified psychologists or social workers who have specialist knowledge in child and family issues after separation and divorce. Court Child Experts are employees of the Court and work in an area of the Court called the Court Children’s Service. Court Child Experts hold a statutory appointment as a family consultant and an authorisation as a family counsellor. A Court Child Expert has a wider range of duties than a Regulation 7 Family Consultant.  

For more information, click here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/court-child-experts-faq 

Court Children’s Service  

The area of court that oversees the work of Court Child Experts and Regulation 7 Family Consultants.  The service provides assistance to parents, Judicial Registrars and Judges making decisions about arrangements that are in the best interests of the children.  

 Court Fees 

 Court fees set by the Federal Government regulations – Family Law (Fees) Regulations 2012. 

 A current list of Court Fees is available here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/fees/fl-fees 

 Court hearing 

 The date and time when an application is considered and determined by the Court.  

 Court Order 

 The actions the parties or a party must do to carry out a decision made by a court. An order may be either interim (temporary) or final. 

 Divorce Order 

 An order made by a court that legally ends a marriage. 

 Dispute Resolution Conference 

 A dispute resolution conference is conducted in parenting proceedings and may be undertaken by Judicial Registrar with assistance from a Court Child Expert, who are experienced family dispute resolution practitioners.  Conferences vary in length and may las a number of hours. 

 Domestic Violence Order  

 An order which protects persons from domestic and family violence and prohibits violent behaviour. In Queensland, a family violence order is called a Domestic Violence Order. These orders are normally administered by the various state and territories and the names of these orders differ. However, the Family Law Act 1975 describes these orders as family violence orders. To apply for an order, you will need to apply to your specific state or territory.   

 Duty of Disclosure 

 In family law disputes, each party has a duty to provide full and frank disclosure of   all information in their possession, power or control which is relevant to an issue in the case. I 

 This duty starts with the pre-action procedure before the case starts and continues until the case is finalised.  

For more information, click here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/duty-disclosure. 

Duty List The duty list is a list of matters (approximately 15-20) which are listed to appear before the Court on the same date .  

 On this day, the Judge may: 

  • give directions (which are instructions on the next step/s that are required in a case); 
  • approve proposed consent orders (which is an agreement that has been agreed to, and provided by, the parties); 
  • if time permits, conduct an interim hearing (which is a short hearing about an urgent or defined issue) and make interim orders; 
  • make final orders for certain types of applications; and/or 
  • set a date for a final hearing. 

 The Duty List also provides parties with an opportunity to define the issues that are in dispute and, if possible, reach an agreement. 

 Enforcement Hearing 

 A hearing which allows a person who is owed money (i.e. the payee) to obtain information about the financial situation of the person who owes the money (i.e. the payer). 

Enforcement Order 

 An order made by a court requiring a party or person to comply with (i.e. “follow”) a previous order. 

Evatt List  

A specialist list established in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to resolve high risk matters. The list is a specialised case management pathway for cases where the Court application is only for parenting orders.  

Ex Parte Hearing 

A hearing where one party is not present and has not been given notice of the application before the Court; usually reserved for urgent cases. 

Family Dispute Resolution Conference 

A Family Dispute Resolution Conference is a conference conducted by a Judicial Registrar and  a Court Child Expert, which provides parents with an opportunity to reach an agreement about appropriate parenting arrangements for their children. .  

For more information, click here: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/cb-fdr 

 Family Law Act  

 The Family Law Act 1975 (‘the Act’) is the legislation in Australia which covers family law matters. 

 Federal Circuit and Family Law Court of Australia  

 The Court established by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 which deals with family law matters. It is comprised of two divisions. Division 1 focuses on family law matters while Division 2 deals with migration, general federal law and family law matters.  

Family Consultant  

A court appointed psychologist or social worker with specialist knowledge in family and child issues after divorce and separation. They complete family and child assessments. There are two types of family consultants, including a family consultant (who may also be an employee of the court and hold the title Court Child Expert) and a Regulation 7 family consultant (a private practitioner not employed by the court).  

Family law Registry  

A public area at a Family Law Court where people can obtain information about the court and its processes and where parties file documents in relation to their case. 

Family Violence 

For the purposes of the Family Law Act 1975, family violence means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful. A child is exposed to family violence if the child sees or hears family violence or is otherwise exposed to family violence. Family violence may also amount to child abuse in some circumstances. Other examples of behaviour that may constitute family violence include (but are not limited to): 

  • An assault (including sexual or other sexually abusive behaviour); 
  • Stalking; 
  • Repeated derogatory taunts; 
  • Intentionally damaging or destroying property; 
  • Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal; 
  • Unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had; 
  • Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support; 
  • Preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture; or 
  • Unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, of his or her liberty. 

Family Violence Order 

An order (including an interim order) made under a prescribed law of a State or Territory to protect a person from family violence. In Queensland these are called Domestic Violence Orders.  

Filing 

The procedure of lodging a document at a family law registry for placing on the court file. 

Financial Statement  

A document which provides information about a party’s present financial circumstances, including their average weekly income, expenditure, assets, liabilities and financial resources etc.  

 A Financial Statement must be filed by a party to a financial case, such as property settlement, spousal maintenance, child support or financial enforcement with the party’s Initiating Application or Response. 

Final order 

An order made by a court to bring a case to a close. 

Form 

A document that must be completed and filed at court. Different forms are used for different family law matters. 

Indemnity Cost Order  

Where the conduct of a party warrants it, the Court can award an order where all costs that a party reasonably and properly incurred is paid by the other party. This is not a standard order and will be given in exceptional circumstances.  

Independent Children’s Lawyer 

A lawyer appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interests in a case. 

Initiating Application 

The form used to seek final orders in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Interim or procedural orders can only be sought in this form if you (the applicant) are also seeking final orders. There are also other supporting documents which must be filed together with the Initiating Application, depending on the matter and the issues in dispute. 

Interim Order 

A temporary order made by a court until another order or a final order is made. 

Judgment 

A decision by a court after all the evidence is heard. 

Judicial Officer 

A person who has been appointed to hear and decide cases; for instance, a Judge or a Judicial Registrar.  

Jurisdiction 

The authority given to a court and its judicial officers to apply the law. For example, the courts have jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1975 in family law matters. 

 Magellan 

 Cases that come to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia that involve allegations of sexual abuse and/or serious physical abuse of a child go into the Court’s Magellan program. The Magellan program is for cases involving the most vulnerable children. 

Mediation 

Mediation is a dispute resolution process where parties involved in a dispute are assisted by an independent third party to help them reach agreement. Parties may agree to attend mediation to resolve financial and/or parenting issues. Mediation musttake place before court proceedings are commenced, and often takes place after court proceedings are commenced too.  

Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk  

A mandatory form which must be used by any person who files an Initiating Application or Response seeking parenting orders. . The purpose of the form is to ensure families and their child/ren receive appropriate and targeted early intervention and assistance.  

Parental Responsibility  

Parental responsibility means all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which parents have in relation to children.  

Parenting Plan 

A written agreement between the parties setting out parenting arrangements for children, which has been signed and dated by both parties. It is not approved by or filed with the Court. 

Party or Parties 

A person or legal entity, such as a corporation, involved in a court case; for example, the applicant or respondent. 

“Party-party” Costs Order 

Usually, parties who are involved in family law proceedings pay their own legal costs. However, there are exceptions to this. The Court may order one party to pay the legal costs of another according to a scale. These are known as “party-party” costs. 

Proceeding  

When a person makes an application to a court for orders, that becomes the proceeding (case) before the court. 

Precedent 

A decision made by a judicial officer in the past, which may serve as an example for other cases or orders. 

Procedural Order 

An order made by a court of a practical nature. For example, the court may order the parties to attend family dispute resolution. 

Recovery order  

An order of the Court that can require a child be returned to a: 

  • parent of the child; 
  • person who has a parenting order that states the child lives with, spends time with or communicates with that person; or 
  • person who has parental responsibility for the child. 

A recovery order can authorise or direct a person or persons, such as police officers, to take appropriate action to find, recover and deliver a child to one of the people listed above. As well, a recovery order can provide directions about the day-to-day care of a child until the child is returned or delivered. 

A recovery order can also prohibit the person from again removing or taking possession of the child. In these cases, a recovery order can authorise the arrest (without warrant) of the person who again removes or takes possession of the child. 

Registrar 

There are three types of Registrars – Senior Judicial Registrar, Judicial Registrar and Deputy Registrar.  

Registrars exercise aspects of judicial power which has been delegated to them by Judges, for example, granting divorces, making Orders by consent and deciding the next step in a proceeding. They manage cases from the filing point and can undertake tasks which judges normally complete. The use of Registrars allows Judges to focus on the determination of more complex family law matters. 

Regulation 7 Family Consultant  

A private and experienced registered psychologist or qualified social worker who the Court pays on a fee for service basis to complete reports. There are two types of family consultants, the other being family consultants who are also employees of the court (Court Child Expert) and are able to prepare a report for the Court.  

Reply 

A reply is a form used by a person (i.e. the applicant) who has filed anInitiating Application to which the other party (i.e. the respondent) has filed a Response to Initiating Application seeking orders about a new subject matter; and the applicant wishes to reply to those orders.  For example, if the application is about children and the respondent files a Response to Initiating Application seeking property orders, this form would be used to respond to the claim for property orders.

Respondent 

A person named as a party to a case.  

Response 

A form used in the Federal Circuit Court to respond to an Initiating Application or an Application in a Proceeding.

Rules 

A set of directions that outlines court procedures and guidelines in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. The rules of the Court are the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) Rules 2021.  

“Separated but living under one roof”  

When a married couple separate but continue to live in the same home. It may be for a few days, weeks, months or years following separation.

Service 

The process of sending or giving court documents to a party after they have been filed, in accordance with the rules of court. Service ensures that all parties have received the documents filed with a court.

Spousal Maintenance 

Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by a party to a marriage to their husband or wife (or former husband or wife) in circumstances where they are unable to adequately support themselves and the other person is reasonably able to support them.  

Subpoena 

A document issued by a court, at the request of a party, requiring a person to produce documents and/or give evidence to the court.

The Commonwealth Courts Portal 

An online secure web-based portal which provides access to information about proceedings that are before these courts. Through this service, registered users can: 

  • keep track of their cases; 
  • identify documents that have been filed;
  • view future court dates;
  • electronically file certain
  • documents; and 
  • view outcomes and any orders that have been made. 

Third Party Debt Notice  

In this Notice, the Courts direct a third party to pay money that the third party owes to the respondent to the payee instead of the respondent. Typically, the third party is an employer of the payer or a bank or building society where the payer has money in an account. 

Transcript 

A record of the spoken evidence in a court proceeding. All court hearings are recorded, except uncontested divorce hearings. The court does not order transcripts in all instances and does not provide transcripts to parties. If a party orders a transcript, they will be responsible for the costs. 

Undertaking  

A promise to the Court which is as binding as an Order of the Court. For example, where a person gives an undertaking that they will take a certain action, the Court will require that person to take that action as if the Court itself had ordered the person to take the action. A breach of an undertaking is treated as the same as a breach of an order. 

Warrant of Arrest 

A document which is which authorizes the police to order that a person be arrested and brought before the Court. For example, a warrant of arrest may be necessary to ensure that an alleged offender will attend before a Court to be dealt with for an alleged contravention.