What is a First Return Hearing?

First Return Hearing

By Ezra Sarajinsky

· Read time: 5 minutes

A First Return Hearing is the first Court event after a matter has been initiated in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. 

It is a procedural hearing that is presided over by a Judicial Registrar – not a judge. 

Also called a First Return Date, this first event in the litigation process will involve the Judicial Registrar hearing from both parties, and then giving instructions about what the immediate next steps will be as they get prepared for subsequent stages in the Court process. 

The primary objective of the first return date is to evaluate and prioritise cases while also establishing a procedural roadmap for the progression of the matter.

What issues can be decided at a first return hearing?

At a First Return Hearing, several important matters can be addressed, depending on the nature of your case. 

They are generally more of a procedural nature, and it’s important to understand that this is just the first step in the Court process: the real issues at the heart of the matter will not be settled until the Final Hearing. 

During the initial return date, you can anticipate that the Court will consider the following:

  1. Assessing Consent Orders
    The Court will examine whether there is an opportunity to issue orders by mutual agreement. This may encompass procedural directives and more substantial orders pertaining to both parenting and property issues.
  2. Evaluation of Pre-action Procedures
    The Court will check whether the pre-action procedures have been adhered to. 
  3. Identification of Disputed Matters
    The Court will identify the contentious issues and determine if alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or court-based dispute resolution services, could be used to resolve some or all of the issues in dispute.
  4. Consideration of Interim Hearings
    If alternative dispute resolution is deemed unsuitable, the Court will assess whether an interim hearing is necessary.
  5. Determination of Orders and Directions
    The Court will decide on the specific orders and directives required to advance the case efficiently.

What orders can the Court make relating to Property cases?

For Property cases, the court is likely to consider:

  • Sharing financial disclosure information.
  • Compiling valuations, encompassing real estate holdings and business entities.

What orders can the Court make relating to Parenting cases?

In Parenting cases, a First Return Hearing can cover a wide array of issues. These may include:

  • Providing a concise overview of the case’s key issues.
  • Checking if both parties have served and filed all pertinent documents.
  • Obtaining notes and records from any relevant third parties, such as the Police or child welfare agencies.
  • Whether an Independent Children’s Lawyer should be appointed
  • Compiling an expert report, if it proves beneficial to both parties and the Court in reaching a resolution.

Do you need to attend court at the first return hearing?

In most cases you will not need to physically attend Court. It is commonly conducted these days via video. Furthermore, if you are represented by a lawyer then they can appear for you. 

You are welcome to attend either in person or via Video link, however because a First Return Hearing tends to be procedural there is often no great need for you to actually attend.

When will the first return hearing take place?

Following the initial filing, the first family court date typically takes place approximately 6 to 12 weeks later.

Do you require a lawyer for the first return date?

Having legal representation during a First Return Hearing is highly advisable, if not essential. 

A lawyer (or barrister) will have a working knowledge of the procedures, how the court hearing is held, make any requests specific to your matter, and following the Hearing, will be able to explain all the necessary next steps.

Need assistance?

If you need help with your matter in Court, or any family law matter, get in touch with our team to see how we can help.


What is a First Return date?

The First Return Date is the first court event following the initiation of a case in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFOA). It is another terms for the First Return Hearing.

What is a duty list?

A duty list is a roster of cases scheduled to be heard in court on a particular day. It provides information about which cases are set for various types of hearings, including First Return Hearings.

What is a conciliation conference?

A Conciliation Conference represents a mediation process overseen by a Court Registrar, enabling the involved parties to engage in negotiations to resolve their dispute. This type of conference is funded by the Court and is typically mandated for cases involving relatively modest property assets.

It’s worth noting that the majority of property settlement cases find resolution during Mediation or Conciliation Conferences.

What is an Interim defended hearing?

An Interim defended hearing is a court proceeding that takes place before a final resolution is reached in a case. It deals with temporary issues or interim orders that need immediate attention.

What is a Case assessment conference?

A Case assessment conference is a court-ordered meeting where parties involved in a case, along with their legal representatives, come together to discuss the case’s progress and explore potential resolutions. It helps streamline the legal process and promote effective case management.

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