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  • Writer's pictureJarrod Carter

Streamlining Justice: The PPP500 Pathway in Family Law


The Court has recently introduced a novel case management pathway known as Priority Property Pools under $500,000 cases, or PPP500 cases for short. The inception of this pathway aims to streamline the legal process by providing a simpler, quicker, and more cost-effective means of finalising cases that meet specific criteria. The designation of a case as a PPP500 is provisional and is based on the information supplied in your Form 1 Initiating Application along with any accompanying documents.


A case qualifies as a PPP500 if it meets the following conditions: First, the net value of the shared property, not including superannuation interests, must be less than $500,000. Second, neither party should own or effectively control any entities such as family trusts, companies, or self-managed superannuation funds that may necessitate valuation or expert scrutiny. Third, the case should not involve any additional complexities. Finally, neither party should be seeking orders related to parenting or child support, nor should there be any orders concerning enforcement or arising from a contravention of a previous order or financial obligation.


When your case is marked as a PPP500 case, special orders are made by a Registrar in Chambers without requiring anyone's presence. This move is designed to expedite the legal process. The case management of a PPP500 case comprises two primary components. The first is "Registrar-led resolution," where a Registrar aids separating couples in reaching an agreement as swiftly as possible. The second is "Magistrate-managed PPP500 trials," where a Magistrate determines the case at trial.


The PPP500 case program comes with several distinctive features to enhance the legal process. These include intensive monitoring to ensure compliance with orders for document production and valuations, thereby reducing delays. Parties are given more opportunities at an early stage to discuss and take control of their dispute resolution planning. The program also strives for better dispute resolution outcomes through close involvement in case preparation and management before any dispute resolution occurs. In addition, where feasible, the number of court appearances are minimized, and parties are proactively referred to relevant support services.

Understanding this new case management pathway and its features is crucial for anyone provisionally identified for a PPP500 case. It allows you to prepare effectively, reducing uncertainties and potentially expediting the resolution of your case.


Commencing Proceedings


In alignment with the primary aim of making the legal process quicker, cheaper, and less formal for PPP500 cases, the Court has lifted some of the conventional filing requirements. Specifically, parties are no longer mandated to file an extensive affidavit or a comprehensive Financial Statement along with an Initiating Application or Response to Initiating Application unless explicitly directed by the Court to do so.


Instead, proceedings under the PPP500 pathway can be initiated by filing three key documents: a Form 1 Initiating Application, a Form 13PPP Financial Statement designed specifically for PPP500 cases, and a Form NP3PPP Case Information Affidavit also tailored for PPP500 cases. The streamlined document requirements facilitate a more expedient and cost-effective initiation of proceedings, which is beneficial for both parties involved.


The Court also sets forth stipulations concerning the timing of document submission and service. Unless directed otherwise by the Court, a sealed copy of the Initiating Application along with the supporting documents must be served within seven days of filing the application. As for the respondent, the Response to Initiating Application and its supporting documents must be filed and served upon the applicant within a 28-day window from the date the respondent receives the applicant's documents. This submission must occur no later than two days before the first Court date.


This revised procedure for commencing proceedings emphasizes not just expediency but also reduces the formalities traditionally associated with initiating family and property cases. It is therefore critical to understand these unique requirements and timelines to ensure compliance and take full advantage of the benefits that the PPP500 case management pathway offers.


Before the First Court Date


Before your case reaches its first Court date, it is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of a Registrar. A Registrar is an officer of the Court who possesses specialized qualifications and extensive experience in family law, court procedures, and dispute resolution. The Registrar has the authority to make certain orders and will manage your case up until the conclusion of the dispute resolution process. Should the case remain unresolved by that point, the Registrar will refer it to a Magistrate for further review and decision-making. However, it's key to note that a Registrar does not have the power to make a final determination on your case.


After the Initiating Application is filed, but before your first Court appearance, the Court or a Registrar may issue an order in chambers regarding the management of your case. Such case management directions could be made without additional notice to the parties involved. These may include the requirement to file and serve a Financial Statement (PPP500) and a Case Information Affidavit (PPP500) if these have not already been filed. Orders may also be made for each party to provide financial documents to the other and to produce copies of such documents to the Court on the first Court date.


Furthermore, directions may be given for parties to liaise about the dispute resolution process. This proactive step aims to facilitate open dialogue and potentially lead to quicker resolutions. Additionally, parties may be directed to collaborate on selecting an appropriate expert witness for the valuation of disputed property items and, where possible, to jointly instruct this expert to conduct the valuation. Should there be any interim applications, the filing of affidavits in respect to these might also be directed.


Even before an order is issued in chambers, each party has an obligation to provide copies of all documents listed in rule 199 of the Family Court Rules 2021 (WA) to the other party prior to the first Court date, as far as is practicable. This is in line with the Court's aim to expedite the process and encourage transparency between parties.


Understanding these pre-court procedures and adhering to them is crucial for effective case management. It not only helps you comply with Court directives but also prepares you for the first Court date, ensuring the process moves as smoothly as possible.


First Court Date Before a Registrar


Your first Court date serves multiple important functions in the lifecycle of your case. Generally, the Registrar will aim to identify and clarify the issues at hand and encourage parties to reach a settlement. If a settlement isn't achievable right away, the Registrar will issue procedural orders and directions that guide how the case will proceed. These may include instructing parties to provide any remaining financial documents to each other or appointing experts to value disputed property. If the value of certain items is agreed upon by both parties, the Court can record those agreed values for future reference.


At this juncture, the Registrar may approve proposed consent orders, either on an interim or a final basis. If there's an urgent issue that needs immediate attention, the Registrar can refer the matter to a Magistrate for a hearing. This could occur on the same day or be scheduled for another date. Further procedural orders may be made at this point to facilitate the process.


It's critical that both lawyers and their clients be present on the first Court date. Lawyers should be prepared to inform the Registrar of costs incurred to date, estimated costs for the entire case, and how their clients intend to fund their legal representation. Delays, including requests for adjournments, are generally frowned upon and seldom approved. If for some reason service has not occurred by the first Court date, it's expected that an application for substituted service would have already been made, with the Registrar likely making a determination on this issue at this first meeting.


By the time you arrive at the first Court date, you should have already followed any chambers orders made regarding document provision, property valuations, and any other procedural requirements as per the Family Court Rules. If full compliance with these orders has not been achieved, the Registrar may stand the case down temporarily to allow parties time to complete and file required documents, negotiate urgent matters, and potentially agree on property valuations. In certain circumstances, orders may be made for ensuring procedural fairness to a superannuation trustee, who would then need to be served with particular documents as specified in the Family Court Rules.


Should the case remain unresolved by the end of the first Court date, the Registrar will most likely schedule a second Registrar-led court event, often a Conciliation Conference. Both parties should be prepared to discuss participation in appropriate dispute resolution (DR) events like a Conciliation Conference, Legal Aid conference, or private mediation. This next step in the process is typically scheduled to occur within the following 7 weeks, and aims to facilitate a more amicable and expedited resolution to the case.


Dispute Resolution


Dispute resolution (DR) techniques are vital tools that can make the legal process more manageable and cost-effective for both parties. Not only can these methods resolve the entire case, but they can also help to narrow down interim issues that might be causing hold-ups. These options could include family dispute resolution at a Family Relationships Centre, Legal Aid conferencing, private mediation, or arbitration. Usually, the Court will order a Conciliation Conference, but parties may also engage in other forms of DR. The Registrar, using their discretion and considering the financial and property resources of the parties involved, will typically make the orders for a DR event like a Conciliation Conference.


Parties are expected to act in good faith during these DR events. This means actively participating in negotiations with the aim of resolving issues and reaching a compromise that is mutually acceptable. Legal representatives are equally expected to participate meaningfully in these discussions, aiding their clients in reaching an agreement that narrows the contested issues.


Conciliation Conference and Procedural Orders


By the time a Conciliation Conference comes around, it's expected that all disclosure and valuations will have been completed. The Registrar will facilitate meaningful negotiations between the parties (and their lawyers, if applicable) to reach a just and equitable agreement. If an agreement isn't reached during the Conciliation Conference, the Registrar will then make procedural orders and refer the case to a Magistrate for a Status Hearing and eventually a final hearing or trial.


During the Conciliation Conference, the Registrar will also engage in "reality testing" with the parties and their lawyers, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases and the evidence available. This aims to give everyone a grounded understanding of the case, guiding them toward a reasonable resolution or preparing them for what to expect in a trial.


A trial plan will be established if the matter goes that far, with a maximum of two days allocated for the final hearing or trial. Procedural orders made by the Registrar at this stage are designed to get the case trial-ready. This includes setting a timetable for filing trial affidavits and financial statements and requiring parties to make formal offers of settlement. All these steps are orchestrated to streamline the case, making the process more efficient and less cumbersome for everyone involved.


Final Order Hearing


It's worth noting that only about 3% of cases ever make it to the final hearing stage in family law. For those that do, often years have passed since the initial application was filed. A final hearing can be scheduled to last between one and five days, contingent on the complexity of the case at hand. The hearing is structured to allow each party to give an opening address, present evidence, and offer legal arguments or submissions to the court. Witnesses can be called for cross-examination, and affidavits may be submitted as evidence.


The length of a final hearing can vary based on numerous factors. For instance, cases that involve complicated financial or property disputes often necessitate a longer period to adequately review all pertinent documentation and evidence. Such hearings are thorough and designed to ensure that all parties have a fair opportunity to present their case.


Being adequately prepared for a final hearing is crucial. Typically, a readiness hearing will occur prior to the final hearing to ensure that all parties are prepared for trial, particularly if previous dispute resolution efforts haven't yielded a settlement. Understanding the timeline and scope of your legal matter is essential at this juncture. Acquiring skilled legal advice is invaluable for navigating the complexities of trial directions and procedures. It is also essential to gather all vital documents, including but not limited to affidavits, financial statements, and minutes of orders, as these will be important elements in making your case. A lawyer can provide specific guidance on what documents are most relevant to your situation.


The decision at a final hearing is made by a Judge or Magistrate, who may either render a judgment on the same day or take up to three months to deliver it. This period allows for a comprehensive review of all submitted materials and for a fair and judicious decision to be made. Therefore, while the final hearing marks the culmination of what is often a long and arduous legal journey, it is a critical phase requiring careful preparation and a nuanced understanding of both the facts and the laws that apply.


Conclusion


The introduction of the PPP500 pathway in the court system marks a significant step forward in making the legal process more accessible and efficient for parties with asset pools less than $500,000. This streamlined approach is designed to expedite the resolution of cases, eliminating many of the delays and complexities that traditionally plague family law and financial dispute proceedings. The PPP500 pathway emphasizes the importance of Dispute Resolution techniques, encouraging parties to explore these options before proceeding to a final hearing. By doing so, it aims to narrow down the issues in dispute, potentially facilitating a quicker, less adversarial, and more cost-effective resolution.


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