Family law property settlement – what is a PPP500 case?

March 5, 2020

From 1 March 2020 new streamlined Court procedures will mean faster resolution of many Family Law Property Settlement cases.  The Federal Circuit Court introduce the new process for property matters filed in the Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Parramatta registries in cases where the net asset pool is likely to be $500,000 or less and neither party own or have control over any family trust, company or self-managed superannuation fund that would require expert investigation or valuation. Practice Direction 2 of 2020 “Case Management in Family Law (Priority Property Pools Under $500,000)” determines that financial cases such as these will be referred to as ‘Priority Property Pools under $500,000’, or a ‘PPP500 case’).

In April 2018, the Attorney-General’s Department released a ‘Review of Efficiency of the Operation of the Federal Courts’. This review noted that duringthe 2016/2017 financial year, the average time to finalise a Family Law matter from filing to final hearing in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia was 20.3 months.  Family law cases that are heard by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia are often emotionally and financially draining, and this practice direction is designed to streamline the process and achieve a just, efficient and timely resolution of financial cases with a small asset pool.

The requirements of a PPP500 case are as follows:

  1. The net value of the property pool is under $500,000;
  2. There are no trusts, companies or self managed superannuation funds that require valuation or expert investigation;

Cases in which parenting orders are sought or cases involving child support, child maintenance, contravention applications and enforcement applications will not fall under the PPP500 case.

The PPP500 cases have been established with the aim of cutting down the time a matter is in Court, and utilising the expertise and experience of judicial officers to guide cases through the system as efficiently as possible. One of the key aims of the PPP500 case will be to identify and narrow the issues in dispute by way of the parties participating in Alternative Dispute Resolution such as mediation at an earlier stage of the matter. The PPP500 case allows for intensive monitoring of the parties’ compliance with orders and whether each party has complied with orders to produce financial documents and valuations.

From commencing court proceedings to receiving judgment after a final hearing, the average court attendance for matters in the 2016/2017 financial year was 6.9 attendances in the Federal Circuit Court and 12.4 attendances in the Family Court and the number of family law cases that were older than 12 months was 33%. The PPP500 cases will allow for early settlement of cases and the close involvement of judicial officers throughout the process will assist in cutting down unnecessary court attendances.

There are six steps involved with PPP500 cases, being the following:

Registrar-led Phase:

  1. Before the first Court date preliminary orders will be made by the Registrar in Chambers without the parties having to attend Court.
  2. At the first Court date before a Registrar with the parties in attendance a balance sheet (being a document setting out the property, liabilities and superannuation of the parties) will be settled and the case will be referred to either of the following:
    1. Conciliation Conference;
    1. Private Mediation; or
    1. Legal Aid Conference.
  3. The parties then attend Alternative Dispute Resolution with Registrar, External Mediator or Legal Aid Conference.
  4. If the case did not settle through Alternative Dispute Resolution then at the Second Court date with the parties in attendance the balance sheet will be checked and the case will be referred to a Judge.

Judge-led Phase (if the matter has not settled):

  • First there is a procedural hearing; then
  • Final hearing with the potential for a simplified trial process including:
    • A less adversarial trial by consent (where a Judge takes a more active role in the proceedings and is less formal than traditional trials in the Federal Circuit Court); or
    • A Hearing on the papers (where the Judge deals with the written evidence of the parties and there is no cross-examination of either party or any witnesses).

It’s hoped that the introduction of Priority Property Pool under $500,000 cases will offer parties a simpler, more streamlined process to deal with their property matters in a more time efficient manner. With close scrutiny and management by a Registrar, cases will be referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution such as mediation without the delays currently experienced in the Federal Circuit Court system.

If you are involved in a Family Law Property Settlement you can arrange to speak to a Family Lawyer at Websters Lawyers for a free initial interview by calling 8231 1363 or sending through a request for contact here.