The first court event

What types of court events are there?

This will depend on which court your proceedings have been commenced in.

In the Federal Circuit Court, the first court event is called a first return date or a directions hearing.

In the Family Court, the first court event is called a case assessment conference.

These events are quite different as the procedures of both courts are different.

First return date in the Federal Circuit Court

The first return date in the Federal Circuit Court can be made up of two components:

  1. directions for the future progression of the matter; and/or
  2. determination of urgent interim matters.

The first return date is an opportunity for the judge to understand the background of a matter and determine what orders should be made to progress the matter.  These events are generally listed in what is known as a Duty List Day.  This means that your matter could possibly be one of up to 35 matters that the judge has to deal with on that day.

In the Federal Circuit Court, the judges run a judicial docket which means that you will generally have the same judge for the proceedings.

The first return date is also an opportunity for the parties to negotiate matters.  This could be substantive negotiations in an attempt to resolve the proceedings or negotiations to put in place procedural orders for issues such as disclosure of documents, valuation of property, or the appointment of experts such as a family consultant.

Depending on the state of the judge’s list, they may have time to determine urgent interim matters.  More often than not, if a judge believes that the interim matters are not urgent, an interim hearing date will be allocated.  Judges simply cannot get to hear all issues in all matters, particularly if it is a Duty List Day.  An interim hearing will enable the interim matters that should be determined sooner rather than later to be heard on a day where the judge has time to properly consider them.  At an interim hearing, the judge cannot make findings of fact on contested issues and there is generally no cross-examination of the parties or witnesses.

Case assessment conferences in the Family Court

A case assessment conference is similar to a first return date but occurs before a Registrar rather than a judge.

The case assessment conference allows an opportunity for an agreement to be reached, with the help of a Registrar who has the power to make orders by consent.  The Registrar also assists the parties to clarify issues in dispute and, where possible, to narrow the issues that might have to be determined by a judge.  The Registrar can also indicate whether the matter might be transferred to the Federal Circuit Court.  Generally speaking, the Family Court usually hearings matters that are factually or legally complex.

A Registrar can also made decisions about information to be provided by each party including disclosure documents and make procedural orders about these issues.

How long does it take to get to the first court event

This can depend on a number of factors including:

  • the type of matter;
  • the time of year;
  • where you are located (either in metropolitan or regional areas); or
  • how busy the judges are.

Generally speaking, urgent matters can be allocated a date pretty quickly.  Sometimes this might mean travelling to the closest major court registry with a resident judge.  For other matters, you can expect a wait of between 6 to 12 weeks for a first court event.


This article contains general legal information and is not a complete statement of the law.  You should obtain specific advice about your own circumstances and not rely upon this article until you have done so.  Andrew McCormack will not accept any liability or responsibility for loss occurring (including negligence) as a result of any person or entity acting or refraining from acting in reliance on any material contained herein.  Information current as at date of posting.
Liability is limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation where applicable

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