family court

Family Court of Australia

The Family Court of Australia is a federal Australian court, created by the Family Law Act 1975 as a specialist court dealing with family law matters, established in 1975 as an initiative of the Whitlam government.

The Court has had three Chief Justices to date, Elizabeth Evatt AC, Alastair Nicholson and Diana Bryant QC.


The Family Court of Australia has jurisdiction over all marriage-related cases in Australia, including applications for declarations of the validity or nullity of marriages, divorces, residence, contact , maintenance, child support and property issues. This jurisdiction, granted in the Family Law Act 1975, is a Commonwealth responsibility under the 'matrimonial causes' head of power in Section 51(xxii) of the Australian Constitution. Prior to 1975, jurisdiction over family law matters was held and exercised largely by state Supreme courts under the Matrimonial Causes Act.

The Family Court also has jurisdiction over the children of defacto couples and those that have never lived together. This jurisdiction was acquired by the Commonwealth through an agreement between the states (except Western Australia) and the Commonwealth to refer powers. The initial referral referred to custody and access in the breakdown of de facto relationships. A number of states have also referred de facto property issues, however the federal government has not yet legislated in this area. As a result, in all Australian states, financial issues between de facto couples are dealt with by state courts pursuant to state legislation.

With the establishment of the Federal Magistrates' Court (FMC) in 1999, the Family Court now has concurrent jurisdiction in most areas, with the FMC. The majority of proceedings under the Family Law Act are now filed in the FMC.

Appeals from first instance decisions of the Family Court lie to the Full Court of the Family court. It is possible to appeal to the High Court of Australia, although this requires special leave from the High Court. Few family law cases have obtained special leave to appeal.

Court Dress

When the Family Court was established in the 1970s an attempt was made to make the court less formal and more ‘family friendly’, it was proposed that wigs should not be worn, although the gowns would be retained. However, in 1987, after a series of violent attacks directed against judicial members of the Family Court, judge’s wigs were reinstated to preserve the legal practitioners’ anonymity in the court.

Judges and judicial registrars of the Family Court of Australia wear a black silk gown, a bar jacket with either bands or a jabot and a bench wig. On formal occasions, judges wear full-bottomed wigs.

Judges of the Family Court of Australia

Chief Justice

Deputy Chief Justice

  • John Faulks (25 June 2004)

Judges of the Appeal Division

  • Mary Finn (August 1993)
  • Ian Coleman (31 March 1999)
  • Bernard Warnick (20 December 2002)
  • Michelle May (6 February 2003)
  • Jennifer Boland (8 July 2004)
  • Stephen Thackray (16 November 2006)


External sources

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