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Family Law Court and the Federal Circuit Court what is the difference?

Written by Leanne Abela

Family Law Court and the Federal Circuit Court what is the difference?

In Australia, there are two courts your Family Law matter can be heard in, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

In which court should my Family Law matter be dealt with?

Deciding which court your matter should be heard in will depend on the complexity of your matter.

What kind of matters does the Family Court deal with?

The Family Court of Australia, through its specialist judges and staff, assists parties to resolve the most complex legal family disputes. These may include:

In parenting cases involving:

  • a child welfare agency;
  • allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical or emotional abuse of a child (Magellan cases);
  • multiple expert witnesses; (such as psychologists, doctors, specialists)
  • Complex questions of law and/or special jurisdictional issues;
  • international child abduction under the Hague Convention;
  • special medical procedures (e.g. gender reassignment); and
  • International and other relocation cases.

In financial cases involving:

  • multiple parties;
  • judges valuing complex interests in trusts or corporate structures, including minority interests;
  • Complex questions of law and/or special jurisdictional issues (including accrued jurisdiction); and
  • complex issues concerning superannuation (such as complex valuations of defined benefit superannuation schemes).

What is the Magellan Program in the Family Court?

The Magellan program was developed to deal with Family Court cases involving serious allegations of physical and sexual child abuse.

Magellan involves:

  • rigorous judicial management including the imposition of strict timeframes
  • an early ‘front loading’ of resources such as the appointment of an independent children’s lawyer
  • requesting information from the relevant state or territory welfare authority early in the trial process, and
  • close liaison on case management between external information providers and a small team of judges, registrars and family consultants.

Early steps in a Magellan case include:

  • making appropriate interim orders to protect the child until the matter comes to trial
  • ordering a report from the respective state/territory child protection agency including:
    • whether it intends to intervene in the Family Court proceedings
    • whether it has previously investigated these or other allegations
    • the conclusion and the reasons for the closure of the investigation
    • any recommendations or other relevant information
  • ordering a subpoena of the respective state/territory child protection agency
  • ordering the appointment of an independent children’s lawyer, and
  • ordering a detailed family report, where appropriate, which analyses the family dynamics and the needs of the children.

For more information please see:

What are the procedural differences between the two courts?

Rules and Court Documents

The Federal Circuit Court was established to assist the Family Court in relieving the workload so that the Family Court may allocate more time to consider complex Family Law matters.

Therefore, the Federal Circuit Court deals with a higher number of cases and is governed by the Federal Circuit Court Rules (2001) whereas the Family Law Rules (2004) govern the Family Court. Accordingly, there are different sets of rules and forms to complete depending on which court your matter is heard in.

Court forms can be found at and

Need help? Contact our team

If you are unsure which court to file your Family Law Application in or you believe you may have filed in the wrong court, the team at Pearsons Lawyers can assist you. Feel free to contact our office on 1300 699 688.


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