Need help reaching agreement in a Family Law negotiation or resolving a dispute?

We understand that nothing is more important than family and nothing is more devastating than a family breakdown, especially when children are involved. We know the lasting effect it can have on your life, especially your health and your assets.

The Family Law system may be your first contact with the legal system. It need not be daunting and confusing. We will support and assist you through this difficult and emotional period and work in partnership with you to achieve the best possible result for you in the shortest possible time.

At each stage we explain in plain English the process and your available options and advise you to help you make well informed decisions as to the best way forward.

We pride ourselves on our empathetic, caring and collaborative approach, backed by a resolute determination to protect your interests.

If you feel that, despite your best efforts, the difficulties in your relationship have become insurmountable, contact us.

How can we help you?

Principal Solicitor Anthony Steel’s extensive Family Law experience includes parenting, property, and spousal maintenance negotiations and disputes.

Anthony offers free initial telephone advice and initial face to face advice for a minimal fee.

Should you wish to represent yourself in negotiations, mediation, litigation, or arbitration, Anthony will give you advice and assistance tailored to your situation.

What does Family Law involve?

Family Law involves separated partners:

  1. reaching agreement regarding a final property distribution or parenting arrangements by amicable methods including Family Dispute Resolution (a form of mediation) and negotiation;
  2. re property settlement – setting out all aspects of the agreement reached in proposed consent orders filed in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) or by drafting a binding financial or superannuation agreement; 
  3. re parenting arrangements – setting out all aspects of the agreement reached in proposed consent orders filed in the FCFCOA or in a parenting plan; and
  4. setting out and registering with Child Support all aspects of the agreement reached in binding child support agreement.

Achieving an amicable settlement is always much less costly, complex and traumatic than engaging in litigation. However, if negotiation breaks down and/or the other party commences litigation, your options may be reduced to:-

  1. agreeing to the orders they are seeking; or
  2. filing court documents in response.

If, despite your best efforts, agreement is not reached, you may have to become party to litigation in the FCFCOA. Disputes dealt with by the FCFCOA include:

  • Property settlement and spousal maintenance;
  • Care of children, including parental responsibility, who children live with and spend time with and whether to apply any conditions to such time; relocation of children, and location and recovery of children;
  • Contravention and enforcement of FCFCOA Orders;
  • Urgent Injunctions (e.g. to prevent a child from being removed overseas or prevent your ex-partner from selling your former matrimonial home); 
  • Enforcement of Court Orders; 
  • Divorce and nullity;
  • child maintenance; and
  • a very narrow range of child support applications.

In children’s matters, the Court may appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) who represents the children’s best interests. An ICL’s professional costs are usually equally shared by the parties.

How much does Family Law litigation cost?

It is impossible to estimate the cost of family law litigation as what work will be required cannot be anticipated in advance . The amount of professional costs and disbursements will vary depending on factors such as:-

  • your principal method of communicating with your solicitor;
  • each party’s obstinacy/aggression/willingness to compromise, negotiate and mediate;
  • whether a solicitor-agent must be retained for hearings at a Court Registry distant from your solicitor (e.g. when the applicant lives a long way from your solicitor);
  • whether a barrister or law agent must be briefed to represent you at hearings, to provide advice etc.; 
  • the number and complexity of court documents, legal/factual issues, correspondence, conferences, meetings, hearings, etc.;
  • how many issues require expert reports (e.g. property valuer, psychiatrist);
  • delays in the completion and filing of single expert reports;  
  • children’s matters:
    • whether an ICL is appointed and their fees;
  • property matters:
    • whether agreement regarding market values is reached amicably;
    • how many superannuation funds you have and whether your superannuation fund is a type which must be valued by an expert.

If one party discontinues FCFCOA proceedings, the Court generally sets the matter down for a hearing to give the successful party a chance to argue why the discontinuing party should pay their legal costs.

What are disbursements?

Disbursements are payments we make to others on your behalf, including:-

  • Court fees (inc. filing fees, hearing fees, subpoena issuing fees etc.);
  • Conduct money for subpoenas;
  • fees charged by subpoena recipients to retrieve and copy documents;
  • Process server fees;
  • solicitor-agent fees;
  • Search fees;
  • Superannuation Information Request processing fees;
  • Barrister’s fees;
  • Single Experts and Valuer’s fees (usually equally shared);
  • ICL fees (usually equally shared)

You may be required to pay amounts into your solicitor’s trust account for anticipated costs and disbursements.

If you hold a Government concession card or can demonstrate financial hardship you may be eligible for an exemption from or a reduced Court filing fee.

The FCFCOA’s fees (including guidelines for exemption from fees) are available on the FCFCOA website.

How do we charge?

Family Law matters are charged at either a fixed fee or an hourly rate, depending on the type of matter and level of complexity. Fixed rates apply in the case of a divorce, drafting a financial, superannuation, parenting, spousal or child maintenance, or child support agreement.

Travel and work not requiring solicitor’s skills is charged at a substantially lower rate and waiting, undertaking research and reading correspondence is rarely charged for.

Can my legal costs be deducted from my property settlement payout?

If you are a party to a property dispute, you can ask us if we agree to payment of our professional costs being deferred pending the Family Law settlement. If we agree to that:-

  • our anticipated disbursements must nonetheless be paid into trust in advance;
  • If the likely outcome includes a payout to you, your legal costs will be deducted from that;
  • If your legal costs exceed your anticipated payout, a charge on your real or personal property may be necessary to secure our legal costs.

When do we retain barristers, agents and other experts?

A barrister may be engaged to provide specific advice, to advise generally, to settle Court documents and to appear as your advocate at hearings (at some mentions and interim and undefended hearings and at final hearings).

If we engage a barrister, a solicitor-agent or other expert in your matter, we are responsible for payment of their fees.

A barrister will usually give us a written fee agreement before doing work. This may require us to pay the barrister for part or all of the period for which the final hearing is listed, even if the barrister does not have to conduct the hearing because (as often happens) the matter is settled at the last minute. Unless the barrister’s fee agreement says otherwise, anticipated barrister’s fees must be paid into trust in advance.

We may engage a solicitor-agent to appear at hearings when:

  • prior commitments prevent us from appearing at a hearing; or
  • the hearing is straightforward, uncontroversial or administrative; or
  • the solicitor-agent’s office is much closer to the Court Registry and it is more cost effective for them to appear (taking into account the cost of travel).

Other experts who may have to be engaged include forensic accountants/valuers (e.g. of a business, superannuation, real estate, art collections, antiques, collectables, vintage cars, motorbikes etc) or medical practitioners (e.g. doctors, specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists).

Experts are generally appointed to provide independent expert affidavit evidence. They are generally engaged to resolve a dispute or to comply with the relevant legislation or a Court Order and are usually instructed and paid for jointly by the parties. 

What is a Costs Order?

A Costs Order requires one party to proceedings to pay the legal costs and disbursements incurred by another party.

The general rule in Family Law matters is that each party pays their own legal costs. You may recover some of your legal costs against other parties (party-party costs) in certain very limited circumstances (such as enforcement or contravention proceedings) but costs orders are very rarely made and, no matter how good your case, it is highly unlikely that you will recover any of your legal costs.

If a costs order is made it will usually be after the final hearing of your matter and for only part of the total amount you have paid. Party-party costs are calculated according to a scale in the Family Law Rules which invariably results in a lower amount than your solicitor charges. So even in the extremely unlikely event that you obtain a costs order, you would not recover your entire costs.

In certain circumstances (for example, failure to appear for a hearing, to file documents by a Court deadline, or to comply with a Court order), a costs order may be made against the non-complying party.

When does the Court consider a matter urgent?

In busy periods the Court’s waiting periods may significantly increase.

You may consider your matter sufficiently urgent to justify the Court giving it priority. However, due to severe constraints on the Court’s resources, the Duty Registrar will generally only be satisfied that a matter is urgent if you convince them that refusing your request to jump the queue would have serious consequences (e.g. put a child in harm’s way or allow the other party to sell or remove the matrimonial assets from Australia).

The Court can reduce court waiting times in parenting cases where the Duty Registrar is satisfied by:

  • the filing of an affidavit by you; and
  • a letter highlighting parts of your affidavit addressing the reasons for urgency; and
  • an explanation by the solicitor as to the need for urgent treatment.

This generally requires your solicitor to personally file the documents at the Court Registry at a time when the Duty Registrar is available and wait in the Court building (sometimes all day) until the Duty Registrar has time to question them as to why the matter should be treated as urgent. This process can significantly increase legal costs which would be better spent dealing with substantive issues.

Can we help with related legal actions?

Contact us for assistance to resolve legal issues arising during or after resolution of your Family Law matter, including:

  • registering or removing caveats, priority notices or charges on property;
  • Conveyancing for property sales and transfers including discharging mortgages and re-financing; or
  • drafting a new Will.

How long do we retain your file?

We retain your file (including court and other documents) in storage for at least seven years after your matter has been finalised. Documents held in safe custody are held indefinitely. There is no charge for holding documents in or retrieving them from safe custody or for retrieving closed files from archives. 

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