Appearing at and Following your Matter in the Court

Your matter in the Court will involve a number of steps from beginning to end. Depending on the circumstances, your matter may have particular milestones, require experts to give their opinions or be heard before particular judicial officers.

For information from the Family Court about Court hearings and procedure, download a copy of the Court’s case information brochures here.

Generally, a matter in the Court will have the following steps:

  1. First Return Date. This will be the first hearing that the parties attend. If your application has included an application for urgent interim Orders, your application will likely be heard on this date. This hearing will allow the Court to learn about your matter and make procedural directions to get your application moving. If your matter involves children, then this may be a matter listed on the “Child Related Hearing” matters.
  1. Interim Hearing. If your application included a request for (non-urgent) interim Orders, you will be required to appear before the Court at an Interim Hearing. At this hearing, you and the other party will be given the opportunity to tell the Court why they should, or shouldn’t, make the Orders that have been asked of them.
  1. Conciliation Conference – matters involving finances. One of the first hearings you will be required to attend after the First Return Date will be a Conciliation Conference. This will be one of many Court Ordered opportunities to mediate and negotiate towards a settlement. This will also be an opportunity for the Court to understand your matter better. A Conciliation Conference is normally heard before a Registrar of the Court, who has the power to finalise any agreements that the parties make at the Conference.

At the end of the Conference, the Registrar will make further Orders as required and a Memorandum about what the parties discussed.

  1. Case Assessment Conference – matters involving children. One of the first hearings you will be required to attend after the First Return Date will be a Case Assessment Conference. This will be one of many Court Ordered opportunities to mediate and negotiate towards a settlement. This will also be an opportunity for the Court to understand your matter better. A Case Assessment Conference is normally heard before a Family Court Consultant, who can forward agreements that the parties make at the Conference to a Magistrate or Judge to finalise.

At the end of the Conference, the Consultant will make further Orders as required and a Memorandum about what the parties discussed.

You can find out more information about Case Assessment Conferences by downloading a copy of the Court’s Conference handbook here.

The Court may also Order for a Family Report to be drafted, most commonly by your Consultant. For more information about Family Reports, download a copy of the Court’s brochure here.

  1. Directions Hearing. As the matter progresses, the Court will request your attendance to see how things are going between you and the other party, and if any interim Orders are working. At these hearings, the Court will be able to make more procedural Orders to move the matter towards a final hearing, as well as make any Orders that the parties may wish to settle the matter.
  1. Child Dispute Conference – matters involving children. Child Dispute Conferences are very much like Case Assessment Conferences. They are a further opportunity for the parties to resolve any outstanding issues they have, voice any major concerns they may still have and discuss the possibility of a final settlement.

At the end of the Conference, the Consultant will make further Orders as required and a Memorandum about what the parties discussed.

For more information about child related proceedings generally, download a copy of the Family Court’s Child Related Proceedings brochure here.

  1. Readiness Hearing. If the parties have not been able to come to a final agreement during the course of the matter, then the Court has to put the matter on track for Trial. You will be given Orders by the Court to file a number of documents to be used in the trial. These will range from an updated Final Orders sought (if necessary), to witness affidavits.

The Applicant and/or Respondent will also be required to pay for the number of days that the matter will be before the Court at trial, pursuant to the Readiness Orders made by the Court. You can find details about the Court’s hearing costs here. If you meet the Court’s requirements, you can apply to the Court for an exemption of Court fees. See our information about Court fees in [Commencing an Application].

At the Readiness Hearing, you will be asked to confirm that all of your documents are filed as required. If not, you will have to explain why. If the Court is satisfied that the parties are ready for Trial, then the Court will send the parties off to get their trial date.

  1. Callover. The Callover hearing is purely procedural. The only thing that will happen is the parties will be allocated a trial date. Provided there are no issues outstanding on your matter, you will only miss a date at the hearing if the Court has run out of dates for that month. Then, you will be listed at the next Callover.
  1. Trial. Your final hearing will be your trial. This will be the “big” Court event, where both parties will showcase all of their evidence, examine and cross-examine witnesses and explain to the Court why they should get the final Orders that they are seeking. The more complex your matter will be, the longer your trial will be.

If your matter proceeds to the trial stage, you may wish to consider getting legal advice. A lawyer can help make sure your trial documents are properly drafted before your Readiness Hearing and run the trial for you (including making submissions to the Court and cross-examining witnesses).

In reality, most matters do not make it to trial. Normally, the Court helps the parties come to a settlement ahead of trial and the application is finalised before getting to that stage. In that respect, it is important that both parties take every opportunity to explore options for settlement (where reasonable and appropriate). It is equally important that both parties maintain a polite and business-like relationship for the life of the matter, otherwise the chances for settlement will deteriorate.

It is also important that you engage in the Court process, especially if you are the Applicant in the matter. Sometimes, the Court process can be very overwhelming and it will be tempting to procrastinate from advancing your matter. Nonetheless, you will have to continue following the Orders that the Court has given you and work on your matter towards finalisation. The more that you put into the matter, the quicker that it will be resolved.

Self-representing

Many people in the Family Court, for one reason or another, do not have a lawyer to appear for them. If you do not have legal representation, then you are a “self-represented litigant”.

The Family Court is very experienced in working with self-represented people and, if you fall into this category, you can rest assured that you are not the only one.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court, His Honour Stephen Thackray, has written two handbooks on how to appear in the Court as a self-represented litigant – one for financial matters and one for children’s matters. You can learn more about them, and download a copy, here. Reading this brochure is highly recommended.

Hints and Tips

If you are appearing in Court self-represented, here are a few tips to help you in your appearances:

  1. The Family Court is a big place and you will need to know where your hearing or Conference will be held. Each afternoon, the Family Court releases a list of all of the matters to be heard the following day, along with their times and locations. You can find this information on the Family Court of Western Australia’s website. You can also find this information at the Court upon your arrival; there are screens on every level of the Court with the complete Court list, as well as Court staff who can assist with your hearing details. Alternatively, you can call the Family Court directly for further information.
  1. If you are unable to make a Court date, you will need to write to the Court in advance to notify them of your unavailability. You will need to write to the other party in your matter too, and seek that they too write to the Court to consent to your hearing being adjourned to a later date. However you should only be changing your Court appearance dates if absolutely necessary. If you are running late for your hearing for any reason, you should call the Court to notify them as soon as possible.
  1. Once you are at the Court, you will need to check in with the Court staff to confirm your attendance. To do so, make your way to any of the desks on the Court room floors. Note that the bottom floor to the Court is the Registry, where you can file and swear your documents. The Registry will not be able to assist; you will need to go upstairs for your hearing.
  1. When you are entering a Court room, and the Magistrate or Judge is present, the proper Court etiquette is to bow to the Court upon entering the courtroom and upon leaving the Court room. If the Magistrate or Judge is not present, you do not have to do so.
  1. When your matter is called up, you and the other party to your matter will need to approach the stand. The Applicant is to stand on the right and the Respondent is to stand on the left.
  1. When the Magistrate or Judge is directing a question at you, or if you are addressing the Court, you should remain standing. Whenever you are speaking to the Magistrate or Judge, you should be polite and professional at all times. You must refer to the presiding judicial officer as “Your Honour”.
  1. You must remain before the Court until the Magistrate or Judge dismisses you and the other party. Upon leaving the bench, you can bow to the Court.
  1. If you are feeling nervous about your appearance, this is completely normal. Remember that the Court is there to assist the public, not intimidate it. If you have any genuine procedural questions about the matter, you can direct them to the Court.

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