Family Court property proceedings are notorious as expensive, protracted, and painful journeys that former spouses seeking closure in respect of their financial affairs are sometimes forced to navigate. Of course, most couples who separate at the end of a marriage or defacto relationship can finalise matters relating to property—essentially who gets what—without recourse to contested Family Court proceedings, but for those who aren’t so fortunate they are now facing Family Court proceedings that the Court has advised the wait time from commencing proceedings until a final judgement is delivered, may be as long as 4 years!
After a successful trial in several Federal and Family Circuit Court locations (ie the rest of the Country’s equivalent to our Family Court of Western Australia), the Family Court of WA has introduced the new Priority Property Pool (“PPP500”) initiative, which is intended to move qualifying matters forward quickly and less expensively. This new case management pathway has been implemented to help deal with the ever-increasing backlog of matters, and to lessen the four-year wait for a final determination.
Who will be able to access the pathway?
The PPP500 pathway is available for matters where:
- the net value of the joint asset pool (excluding superannuation) is $500,000 or less; and
- the asset pool does not include any entities such as family trusts, companies, or self-managed superannuation funds that require valuation or bring complexity to the matter; and
- there are no contested parenting issues before the Court.
Alternatively, the Court can make a declaration or notation to designate a matter to be dealt with via the PPP500 pathway should the Court consider it appropriate to do so.
The PPP500 designation is only available for property matters, and parties seeking parenting orders as part of their application cannot utilise the pathway for their financial settlement. If the Court is required to consider child support or child maintenance, this also disqualifies the matter from the PPP500 pathway. Contravention or enforcement applications cannot be designated to the PPP500 pathway, and if a matter becomes complex, the Court is likely to remove the PPP500 designation for the case.
What does PPP500 offer to parties?
The six-step PPP500 process is structured to strongly encourage parties to engage proactively in alternate dispute resolution practices to resolve both substantive and procedural issues, to maximise opportunities for resolution. Once a matter is put on the PPP500 pathway, the steps of the process are as follows:
- A Registrar will triage the matter by making preliminary orders in chambers.
- A first hearing will then be held before the Registrar, where the asset pool will be clarified and the Register will refer the matter to a suitable alternate dispute resolution event.
- The parties will then attend the alternate dispute resolution event, which may be a conciliation conference before a Registrar, private mediation, a Legal Aid conference or arbitration.
- If the matter doesn’t settle at the alternate dispute resolution event, the Registrar will then make procedural orders to progress the matter to a Magistrate.
- A status hearing will be held before a Magistrate.
- A final hearing will be held before a Magistrate.
Parties in a PPP500 matter are expected to engage in the process in good faith, and come to the process with a willingness to compromise to enable a resolution to be reached. Participants will benefit from a less formal process, as the materials required for a hearing are not as onerous as the normal Court final hearing pathway.
How is a matter selected for PPP500?
If a property settlement matter meets the criteria for the PPP500 case management pathway set out above, parties can apply by way of an initiating application, accompanied by the financial statement and case information affidavit specifically designed for PPP500 matters. The supporting documents are less extensive than those otherwise required by the Court when commencing proceedings in property matters. Registrars then review the applications to confirm whether the matter will qualify for PPP500 and, if it does, will triage the matter accordingly to an alternate dispute resolution event.
Lynn and Brown Lawyers encourage anyone negotiating a property settlement with a former spouse to get in touch with one of our experienced family lawyers to give you an idea as to your entitlement and how the matter may be able to be settled. You can contact us through our website at www.lynnandbrown.com.au or by calling 08 9375 3411.
About the Authors: This article has been co-authored by Alison Churchill and Jacqui Brown. Alison is a career-change family lawyer at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Alison’s experience includes working with extended family members with care of children after relationship breakdowns. Jacqui is a Perth lawyer and director at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Jacqui has over 20 years’ experience in legal practice and practices in family law, mediation and estate planning. Jacqui is also a Nationally Accredited Mediator and a Notary Public.