What do I do if my ex threatens to "take me to court"?

Woman standing with arms crossed.

"Help! My ex has threatened to 'take me to court'. What do I do?"

Whilst a common threat from angry ex-partners (who may have watched too many courtroom dramas), commencing proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia is not that simple and usually requires some groundwork.

Since the commencement of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Rules 2021 on 1 September 2021, several changes were introduced in an effort to provide more efficient and just outcomes to parties. One of these changes involves the requirement for both parties (applicants and respondents) to file a Genuine Steps Certificate.

What is the Genuine Steps Certificate?

The Genuine Steps Certificate requires each party to certify that they have complied with the pre-action procedures and taken genuine steps to resolve, or at least narrow, the issues in dispute between them in both parenting and property matters. These steps include:

  1. Participating in dispute resolution (or making inquiries and inviting the other party to participate in dispute resolution). Dispute resolution includes participating in negotiations, round table conferences or mediations, with or without the assistance of lawyers. In parenting applications, unless there is an exception, a section 60I certificate must be filed showing that the applicant attempted family dispute resolution before issuing proceedings.
  2. Exchanging relevant documents (such as financial disclosure including bank statements and tax returns).
  3. Giving written notice to the other party of the intention to commence proceedings. That notice must include:
  • the issue/s in dispute
  • the orders sought
  • a genuine offer to resolve the issue/s in dispute
  • a timeframe to respond

When is the Genuine Steps Certificate filed?

This Genuine Steps Certificate must be filed by an applicant when filing an Initiating Application, and by a respondent when filing a Response to Initiating Application.

Are there any exemptions?

There are some exemptions, including when:

  • it is not safe to do so, for example, there are allegations of child abuse or family violence
  • the application is urgent
  • you would be unfairly prejudiced by completing the required steps; or
  • you (or the other party) have filed a family law application in the preceding 12 months

Failure to comply

There may be serious consequences if you or the other party fails to make a reasonable and genuine attempt to resolve the dispute before filing a court application.

The court may:

  • dismiss the case
  • stay the application, meaning the court process will not continue, until the requirement has been complied with
  • make a costs order against the parties and/or practitioners

For more information on commencing proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, please contact our team of family & relationship law experts.

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All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.