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Can a Case Be Reopened After Being Closed? (2024 Updated Guide)

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Reopening a case in the Family Court after the final hearing is rare, but it’s important to know if can a case be reopened after being closed. The Court wants to discourage parties from having a case reopened frivolously. While the standards are high, there are specific circumstances where the Court acknowledges further action is warranted in a closed case.

Why reopen a case?

People going through family law proceedings in Court often face extended delays in receiving a final judgment. Family law issues can usually change rapidly, with new evidence and evolving circumstances dramatically altering the nature of the case. Here are some reasons why a family law case may need to be reopened.

Dynamic Nature of Family Circumstances

Family situations are often fluid and can change rapidly. New developments related to child custody, financial circumstances, or health issues can arise after the conclusion of a trial but before a final judgment is made.

Delay in Final Judgments

In many family law cases, there can be a considerable delay between the conclusion of the trial and the delivery of the final judgment. During this period, new evidence or changes in circumstances that could materially affect the case outcome can emerge.

Best Interests of Children

In cases involving children, the paramount concern is always their best interests. If new information comes to light that could significantly impact the welfare or best interests of the children involved, it may necessitate reopening the case.

Fairness and Justice

The legal system aims to achieve fair and just outcomes. If new evidence or circumstances challenge the fairness of the impending judgment, there may be a compelling reason to revisit the case to ensure justice is served.

Financial Changes

In property settlement cases, changes in the parties’ financial circumstances can be grounds for reopening a case. This can include bankruptcy, significant changes in asset values, or discovery of previously undisclosed assets.


Criteria for reopening a case

  • The rules governing when a Family Court case may be reopened aren’t covered by any legislation. Therefore, judges are given discretion to determine when reopening a case is appropriate. The criteria judges rely on are derived from Reid v Brett 2005.

Reid v Brett 2005 provides a framework for understanding when and how a case can be reopened in Australian law. This is especially relevant in family law contexts, ensuring justice is served while respecting the finality of court decisions.

New Evidence

The case established that new evidence that was not available at the time of the original hearing must have come to light. This evidence should be such that it could not have been reasonably discovered or obtained earlier with due diligence.

Material Impact

The new evidence must be material to the case. This means it should be relevant and significant enough to alter the original decision’s outcome. The evidence should go to the heart of the matter and substantially impact the issues that were decided.

The interest of Justice

The reopening of a case should serve the interests of justice. The court will consider whether reopening the case is fair and equitable in light of the new evidence. This involves balancing the need for finality in legal proceedings against the need to ensure a just outcome.

showing the symbol of fairness in law (1)

What is the process to reopen a closed case?

While awaiting final orders, you may feel that there are legal arguments for revisiting the case. Certain circumstances, like legal errors, could support your push for a new trial if the original trial didn’t serve justice.

You can make an application to the Court to reopen proceedings if you feel you satisfy the criteria set out in Reid v Brett. It’s crucial to include an affidavit detailing any new evidence you have to present to the Court. Information the affidavit should cover includes:

  • The nature of the new evidence;
  • Why it couldn’t be produced earlier;
  • The importance of the new evidence to the case.

Case study

The following case study demonstrates how new evidence can impact a case awaiting final judgment.

Stone & Clifford [2016] FCCA 2045

In this case, his Honour Judge Wilson reserved his judgment after the trial, which involved two children, aged 12 and 9. The main issue in question was parental responsibility. The mother sought sole parental responsibility, whereas the father sought equal shared parental responsibility for the children. There was no discussion at the trial as to whether the children should spend time with the father, as the parties agreed that the children would solely spend time with the mother.

Following the trial, Judge Wilson reserved his decision and, at a later date, notified the parties that the decision was to be handed down shortly thereafter. This prompted the father’s solicitors to issue a subpoena to the children’s school, requesting various school records. The father then sought the Court’s permission to reopen the case to present the further evidence contained in the subpoenaed material.

The father argued that the school performance of the children outlined in the subpoenaed material was relevant as it demonstrated that the children’s performance at school was not what was suggested by the mother during the trial.

His Honour Judge Wilson granted permission for the case to be reopened. His main reasons for this include:

  • A final judgment had not yet been made in the matter;
  • The school records were significantly different to the evidence given at trial and painted “a very different picture of the happiness and progress of the children at the school”; and
  • It is necessary for the material to be considered for the purpose of determining the best interests of the children.

SFL - Can a Case Be Reopened After Being Closed?


If you need legal assistance in an upcoming Family Court proceeding or are thinking about commencing court proceedings for your family law matter, please contact Shanahan Family Law for effective legal representation.

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Luke Shanahan Family Law

Luke Shanahan


Luke Shanahan is the Principal Solicitor of Shanahan Family Law. Luke has been practising family law since 2008 and started his firm in 2014. He has three beautiful daughters and a supportive, gorgeous wife. In his spare time, Luke enjoys playing tennis and trips to the beach with family and friends. 

Luke is dedicated to providing the best possible legal representation for his clients. His experience and passion for family law set him apart from other solicitors. You only have to read their 5-star reviews to understand that.

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