The Federal Circuit Court of Australia has introduced a new process to manage family law property disputes for cases where the value of the net property pool is under $500,000. The new process, known as the Priority Property Pool 500 (PPP500), starts on 1 March 2020 and will operate for two years as a pilot program in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Parramatta.

It is well known that litigation in the courts can be very costly and time-consuming and can lead to long-term acrimony between the parties. Many people, particularly those who have been victims of family violence, are also very reluctant to engage in court action due to the cost and the ongoing conflict with the perpetrator.

The concept of a “small claims” process in the courts was identified through work conducted by Women’s Legal Services Victoria. Through that research, it was identified that;

Women are most at risk of economic hardship when relationships end. However, where the asset pool is small or consists entirely of superannuation or debt, many women simply walk away from seeking their share of property. Women who have experienced family violence are also disadvantaged by the family law system. In particular, court processes and rules can be used by perpetrators of violence to continue to control, financially damage or abuse a victim1.”

The aim of the PPP500 is to provide a simplified way of resolving property disputes which will minimise risk and legal costs, and best preserve the parties’ assets.

The head of the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren said that this pilot is one of many initiatives that the Courts have implemented to improve access to justice.

“The Courts have worked hard to improve the family law system by introducing different ways to resolve family law disputes, allowing people to resolve their dispute quickly and sensibly so that they can move on with their lives in a positive way.

“This pilot has been developed for parties who are particularly vulnerable and are reluctant to engage with the court system by making the process easier to navigate, reducing costs and importantly, minimising acrimony between parties.

“The Courts acknowledge the work that has been achieved by the Women’s Legal Services in this area and we look forward to working collaboratively with them and the state-based legal aid bodies, law societies and Bar associations to help families in need,” Chief Justice Alstergren said.  

This project is funded through the Commonwealth government’s Womens Economic Security package which is designed to improve the responsiveness of the family courts to family violence. The pilot program will be independently evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). 

The PPP500 program involves the following features:

  1. Intensive monitoring of compliance with orders for production of documents and valuations;
  2. Reduced delays in getting financial cases through the alternative dispute resolution process;
  3. Expanded opportunities for parties to discuss and take ownership of their dispute resolution planning at any early stage;
  4. Opportunities for settlement at an early stage;
  5. Improved dispute resolution outcomes through close involvement in the preparation and case management of the case before ADR takes place;
  6. Where possible, unnecessary court appearances are eliminated and the number of Court appearances reduced; and
  7. Referral to appropriate services is made proactively.

More information on the pilot program is available from: http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fccweb/rules-and-legislation/practice-directions/2020/pd22020

1 Women’s Legal Services Victoria (2016) “Small Claims, Big Battles