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Which court?

The information on this page relates to court processes and procedures for family law issues and the Family Law Courts.

The Family Court of Australia, Federal Circuit Court of Australia both deal with family law issues. In some cases state magistrates courts may make a parenting order. The court you choose will depend on your legal issue.

Family law can be complex. You should get legal advice.

Choosing a court

The Family Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Family Court of Western Australia, and the local or magistrates courts in each state and territory all have the power to make decisions about family law issues under the Family Law Act 1975.

The court you choose will depend on:

  • the issues
  • the cost
  • where you live
  • the services available.

Most family law cases are now heard in the Federal Circuit Court.

For information visit the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court website or phone 1300 352 000.

The Federal Circuit Court operates in every state except for Western Australia for family law matters. Visit for more information.

Family Court of Australia

This court deals with the most complex legal family disputes, including:

  • international child abduction
  • international relocation
  • disputes as to whether a case should be heard in Australia
  • special medical procedures such as gender reassignment and sterilisation of children
  • serious allegations of sexual abuse of a child and serious allegations pf physical abuse of a child or serious controlling family violence warranting the attention of a superior court
  • complex questions of jurisdiction or law
  • a case which is likely to take more than four days if it proceeds to trial
  • contravention and related applications in parenting cases where the orders have been made in the Family Court of Australia and the orders were made after a trial or by consent at a final stage of hearing and when the orders were made within 12 months of filing the contravention.
  • adoption
  • validity of marriages and divorces

Before taking a parenting dispute to the Family Court of Australia you’ll usually need to attend family dispute resolution—some exceptions may apply.

You’ll also need to participate in pre-action procedures (such as attending family dispute resolution) before going to court. These steps will help you reach agreement with the other person. Only after these procedures have been followed can you ask the court to decide your case.

Federal Circuit Court of Australia

The Federal Circuit Court aims to provide a simple and easy place for people to sort out their dispute. The rules and procedures are simpler and less formal than in the Family Court of Australia. This is to try to reduce your costs and the number of times you need to go to court. There are generally fewer steps between the first and last hearing.

This court operates in every state, except Western Australia, for family law issues. The court also circuits to regional parts of Queensland.

The Federal Circuit Court deals with:

  • parenting orders
  • locating and recovering children.
  • property settlement
  • spousal maintenance
  • child maintenance and child support issues
  • enforcing orders of the Federal Circuit Court

Before going to court you will usually need to participate in family dispute resolution and counselling before a judge will look at your case—some exceptions may apply.

Information about court processes and procedures, application forms and self-help kits are available online.

State Magistrates Court

The Queensland Magistrates Courts can deal with some minor family law matters, depending on where you live, such as urgent or interim (short-term) cases about children where there is a domestic violence case being heard.

Some magistrates courts may accept applications for consent orders. However, applications for parenting orders are mostly made in the Federal Circuit Court. You should get legal advice about this before you file an application.

Time limits

Various time limits apply for certain family law matters, for example:

  • If you want to apply for divorce, you must have been separated for 12 months.
  • If you want to apply for spousal maintenance, you must do so within 12 months of your divorce becoming final, or within 2 years from the date your de facto relationship ended.
  • If you have separated and want to apply for de facto property settlement, you must do so within 2 years of the day you separated.
  • If you want to apply for property settlement following your divorce, you must do so within 12 months of your divorce becoming final.

There are time limits for appeals and review.

You should get legal advice on all of the above areas as time limits can be as little as 7 days.

Do I need legal advice?

You should get legal advice if:

  • you want to make an application to the court to resolve a family law dispute
  • you’re unsure about time limits.

Get legal advice

We may give legal advice about applying to the court/s for family law disputes.

The following organisations may be able to give legal advice:

Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help.

Family Relationship Advice Line gives information about the family law system in Australia.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t provide legal advice.

Family Relationship Centres give information, referrals, dispute resolution and advice on parenting after separation.

Family Court of Australia deals with family law cases. Court forms and information on family court processes are available online.

Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Related Links & Information

Last updated 22 October 2020

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