An updated version of this blog can be found here.
Once a person files an application for parenting or financial matters in the Family Law Courts, a first hearing is set for the case. The first hearing set in a case is known as the “first return date”.
The time in which it takes to get that first hearing will depend on the urgency of the matter but is usually 1 – 2 months.
The first return date is the first time the parties and their legal representatives appear before the Judge in court. At this stage of the matter, limited evidence is before the court and so the court will not finalise the case on that day.
This means that the Judge will not be making final decisions in respect to matters such as what each party’s entitlement to property is or any final living arrangements for children.
The first return date will generally deal with urgent matters such as location and recovery of missing children or an injunction stopping someone from selling property.
Orders made at a first return date are known as interim orders and are largely procedural. Interim orders provide a path for the matter to move forward such as for the parties to exchange relevant information, value important assets and for the next court date to be set.
There doesn’t always have to be an argument in court on the first return date.
Agreement can be reached between the parties prior to or on the first return date about interim issues in which case the Judge can make the agreed set of court orders.
So what should you expect on the first return date?
Where will it be held?
The Family Law Courts in Adelaide are located in the Roma Mitchell Building, 3 Angas Street, Adelaide. You will need to know what floor and what court room you are in and you can look this up on the court website the day before.
When will it be held?
Your matter will be given a date and time to be heard before a Judge. Although it is listed for a specific time there is no guarantee that your matter will be heard at exactly that set time.
On the day, there will probably be lot of other matters listed at the same time before the same Judge. This is known as a duty list. There can be up to 25 other matters in the duty list.
Given this, we recommend that on your first day at court you do not make any other plans, especially where there are significant issues in dispute and negotiations need to take place between the parties.
If there are issues in dispute that cannot be agreed, then each party’s lawyer will need to make submissions to the Judge asking the Judge to make a decision in respect to such issues and this could mean you are at court all day.
Will I speak directly to the Judge?
Your legal representative, that is your lawyer, will address the Judge on your behalf. You will not speak personally or directly with the Judge.
Are there any safety concerns I need to consider?
If you have safety concerns about your attendance at court, the court provides secure rooms for parties who do not want to be in the court room with the other party during the hearing.
If you have safety concerns you should let your lawyer know as soon as possible as there is a limited availability of rooms and they need to be booked early.
Can I bring a support person with me to court?
You are encouraged to bring a support person with you, not only for emotional and moral support but to keep you company if there are delays or your lawyer is engaged in negotiating with the other party.
It is important to choose this person carefully to ensure they act appropriately at court and don’t try and influence your decision making.
It is common for lawyers to try and negotiate at the first court date in an attempt to resolve or at least minimise any issues in dispute.
Can children attend the court?
It is not appropriate for children to be in the court precinct and they are not allowed to be present in court.
It is therefore important for parties to arrange care for their children before the court date. There are limited child care facilities available at the Family Law Courts however bookings are required well in advance and therefore it is always best to try and seek care arrangements outside of the court.