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The Federal government has enacted changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (FLA) that will prohibit the cross examination by self-represented parties in proceedings where there are family violence issues.

Family violence in the FLA means violent, threatening or other behaviours that coerces or controls a family member or causes them to be fearful.

The changes will apply when family violence is alleged in child custody, property settlement or spousal maintenance proceedings, and any one of the following situations also occur:

  • One of the party’s has been convicted or charged with an offence involving violence, or threatening violence to the other party. Typically, this would be a situation when a party has breached a domestic or family violence order or committed assault and has been charged or convicted.
  • A domestic or family violence order has been made under State legislation (such as a DVO, AVO or Protection Order – the terminology differs between States) and applies to both of the parties i.e. they are the aggrieved and respondent. While the new rules apply to family law matters which are under Commonwealth jurisdiction, domestic or family violence orders come under the powers of the States. Temporary orders aren’t relevant here, only a final order.
  • An injunction under Section 68B or 114 of the Family Law Act 1975 for the personal protection of either party has been made. This is effectively the Commonwealth version of a State domestic or family violence order.
  • The Court determines that cross examination by self-represented parties should not occur in the particular facts of the case. Thus, the Judge can decide the parties shouldn’t be permitted to cross examine each other.

Therefore, in family violence matters as set out above, the parties will need their own family law advice and divorce lawyer to conduct the cross examination for them.

We specialise in family law matters and can assist parties from Lismore to the Sunshine Coast, throughout Greater Brisbane, Northern NSW, Tweed and the Gold Coast with court representation and advice. Get in contact today and in an initial consultation we can give you guidance as to your options, likely outcomes and costs.

What if a party can’t afford legal advice or legal representation?

In these circumstances a party may apply to the Commonwealth Family Violence and Cross Examination of Parties Scheme, to have a family lawyer and barrister appointed for them to conduct the cross examination.

Applying for a lawyer will be done via the state Legal Aid offices, is not merit or means tested and the application must be made at least 12 weeks before the final hearing.

This means that regardless of your financial circumstances you will be able to have the lawyer represent you for the cross examination.

We are Legal Aid Queensland panel solicitors and can assist you with applying for Legal Aid as well as Legally Aided court representation.

When is cross examination necessary?

Cross examination of a witness in family law cases usually only occurs at a final hearing.

Therefore, if you have reached an agreement via mediation or through consent orders or parenting plan, then cross examination won’t be necessary.

If your matter is going to court and you need assistance, contact Hooper Family Lawyers at Victoria Point on (07) 3207 7663; or Hooper Family Lawyers Coolangatta on (07) 5599 3026.

 

 

Most people following marriage breakdown and separation wish to avoid having to go to court and want to resolve property settlement as quickly and as cost effectively as possible.

Separation is an emotional time and it is not uncommon for family law solicitors to encounter situations where poor communication and troubled relationships impede the party’s ability to resolve the dispute.

While people usually think of lawyers and Court, they think of court hearing and family law litigation, however when emotions are high, family lawyers and the Court Rules and procedures can assist in resolving the property settlement.

Family Court and Federal Circuit Court pre-action procedures

In the Family Court of Australia, there are strict pre-action procedures that have to be followed prior to commencing property settlement proceedings.

There are no such strict requirements in the Federal Circuit Court, however parties are encouraged to make a genuine effort to resolve the matter by Family Dispute Resolution prior to commencing proceedings.

Most Family Law matters would be filed in the Federal Circuit Court; however, it is helpful if the pre-action procedures are followed in all matters.

Explore Mediation and Family Law Dispute Resolution

Once you see your lawyer and get some advice as to where you stand it can be helpful to make contact with the other party and provide a copy of the pre-action procedures brochure produced by the Family Court and invite the other party to participate in a dispute resolution process. This can include a mediation, arbitration and/or negotiation through solicitors.

If the other party refuses to engage in negotiation, attend dispute resolution or attends but it is unsuccessful, then a written notice of intention to commence proceedings can be forwarded to the other party.

Family Law Rules 2004 r1.05.
Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 r1.03
Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 1 (1)(a).

Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 3 (4).

This notice sets out the issues in dispute, the orders being sought and a further offer to resolve the matter and a timeframe to respond (no shorter than 14 days).

The other party should respond with his or her position. If no response is received proceedings could be commence if the party desires. The advantages of this are:

  • Extensive efforts are made in a structured way before the “last resort option” of going to court is commenced;
  • If you end up in Court most Judges will want to see that parties have made every effort to resolve the dispute before commencing family law proceedings. In some situations, there may even be costs orders made against a party who has unreasonably refused to participate in alternate dispute resolution such as mediation or refused to accept a reasonable offer of settlement; and
  • Following these procedures can make subsequent Family Court proceedings less expensive and more quickly resolved. This is because in conducting settlement negotiations the parties would have usually narrowed the issues in dispute and collected much of the information necessary for resolution.

Other steps to assist in resolving family law property settlement faster with less expense

Each party has a duty to make full and frank disclosure of all information and documents relevant to the dispute. This should occur when the negotiations are taking place and should include a schedule of assets and liabilities and supporting documents. It should also include income (i.e. tax returns) and details of any property disposed of or purchased since separation.

The best way forward is to produce a list of the documents you have for disclosure and provide the list to the other party. The other party should disclose documents relevant to the dispute that are within his/her possession or if he has the power to obtain them. However until a Judge Orders disclosure, there is no way to enforce the obligation. By providing your disclosure contemporaneously with a request the other party is more likely to comply and be less suspicious of the process. We generally recommend to self-represented people who are unsure about obligations to make disclosure to seek independent legal advice.

If a party refuses to make disclosure, Court action can become necessary to compel compliance. Thus, making timely disclosure makes commencing proceedings less likely to be necessary.

If no disclosure is ongoing there can be substantial consequences for non-disclosure, including that a party may not be able to rely on the document as evidence, client may face a costs order or be guilty of contempt or the court.

When pre-action procedures may not be appropriate

There are exceptions to pre-action procedures, including grounds of urgency, where allegations of family violence exist or a genuinely intractable dispute. If the matter does not fall under one of the exceptions parties and lawyers should follow the procedures.

Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 3 (6).
Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 3 (5).
Family Law Rules 2004 r 13.01; Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 4 (1).
Family Law Rules 2004 r 13.01 (2); Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 4 (2)
Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 4 (2)(a).
Family Law Rules 2004 r 13.04.
Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 5 (b).
Family Law Rules 2004 r 13.07.

 

“What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” …but what about the joint bank accounts?

Most people who are married or in committed relationships intertwine their finances. Typically, this takes the form of joint ownership of the family home, motor vehicles and of course the joint bank account (or credit card).

While most people realise there is a process to divide assets and work out who receives what, in our experience there is often confusion regarding the law surrounding accessing jointly held cash.

Common questions people ask family lawyers are:

  • Can I take my half from the joint bank account?
  • Can I take all of it?
  • He/she has transferred it to their account, but I know the banking passwords – can I take it back?
  • How can I stop him/her accessing the joint account?

What’s ours is mine…

When people co-own a bank account both parties are equally entitled to access all of the money i.e. they don’t own half each. They each own the full amount.

This means that whoever gets to the bank first (figuratively speaking – probably the computer first) can legally clean out the joint account.

In this situation it would be necessary for the party who didn’t take the money to take further steps to protect their interests. Neither the bank nor the Police would bear any responsibility to rectify the situation.

Fortunately, however the Family Law Act 1975 does contain remedies and provide Judges with power to address this situation on an interim, or final basis.

For example, if someone was to transfer money to their own account from the joint account, the Court would be able to make Orders, such as, for some or all of the money to be paid to the other person, restrain a person from further dealing with the money, or Order that it be paid into a trust account pending the final determination of all of the issues.

What’s yours is mine…

It is also not uncommon for married couples or people in de facto relationships or other committed relationships to share passwords, pin numbers or banking details (their banks would be angry if they found out).

We have also encountered situations where some people regard being married, or in a de facto relationship (particularly for a long time) as granting equal rights to property. This is not the case.

Being married or in a relationship does not convey property rights.

People may have a common use of property, but ultimately if property is not jointly owned it generally belongs to one of them.

During the relationship it may have been ok to use credit cards, bank accounts or make bank transfers from your partners account but only because this was impliedly or expressly authorised.

If there is no authorisation from the owner, then accessing funds in the above manner may well be stealing, and land you in hot water with the police.

As a general rule, if you’re separated do not use the ex-partners cards or accounts unless there is an express authorisation (in writing).

What’s mine is yours…

The Family Law Act 1975 empowers the Court to adjust interests in property provided the Court does “justice and equity” i.e. the court can take what’s yours and make it his or hers.

The Court also has a number of powers (alluded to above) that can assist in making sure property that may be distributed between the parties to the relationship, is protected until such time as all of the matters are considered.

There is also steps that people can take themselves to avoid Court, unnecessary costs and inflaming the situations. Some examples are:

  • Contact the bank and see if they have an ability to “freeze” an account at the behest of one party;
  • Have a discussion with your ex-partner. Ask them whether they will agree to splitting the funds a certain way, or whether they will agree to having the money deposited to a neutral third party such as a solicitor’s trust account, to be held for both parties.

If in doubt and before taking action that you feel may not be right or may likely inflame your situation, please contact a family law solicitor at Hooper Family Lawyers at Victoria Point or Coolangatta on 3207 7663 for advice.

Alternatively for more information we have many helpful resources on our website.

Accredited Specialist Family Lawyers Gold Coast and Coolangatta

Hooper Family Lawyers is making a sea change…of sorts…we’re staying in the Brisbane Bayside (we love it here) however we now also have a branch office on Griffith Street, Coolangatta.

We will be offering specialised Family Law advice to the Gold Coast and Northern NSW regions including:

  • Family law advice;
  • Consent orders;
  • Parenting Plans and child custody matters;
  • Mediation;
  • Property settlement;
  • Spousal maintenance;
  • Domestic Violence protection;
  • All other aspects of de facto and family law legal and Court representation.

Our office in Coolangatta is situated within walking distance to the Magistrates Court at Coolangatta, and we will be providing representation in the Federal Circuit Courts at Lismore and Southport, as well as representation in the Brisbane Family and Federal Circuit Courts.

For us this is an exciting opportunity to grow our firm, forge new relationships, and provide our expert family law services on the Gold Coast and Northern NSW.

Our mediation services via “Decide Mediation” will also be available from the Gold Coast office, and we are available to travel for mediation from Brisbane to Coolangatta and Northern NSW.

Regardless of whether you wish to see us in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast, we look forward to helping you resolve your family and de facto law issues in a timely and cost effective manner. Please contact our Coolangatta office on 1800 891 878 for an appointment with an Accredited Family Law Specialist. If you would like more information about us, please visit our website at https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/

With divorce comes property settlement, the two go hand-in-hand. This procedure is stereotyped as a long, bitter feud between the parties over money, furniture, and other assets. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

 

What’s a property settlement?

A settlement occurs after a couple separates and begins divorce proceedings. Assets like properties, bank accounts, cars, and the like come under scrutiny. A settlement is possible without court involvement if the former partners can come to an agreement. To make the agreement legally binding, the family lawyer can put in an application for a court order.

 

How is property divided?

Property settlement and issues surrounding it fall under the Family Law Act. If there’s a dispute and it proceeds to court the following steps are taken:

 

  1. Identifying and valuing all property from the marriage/partnership
  2. Identifying and valuing the contributions each person has made to the property through income, homemaking, inheritances, etc.
  3. Factors about each party are considered. This includes their level of personal responsibility, their ability to look after others (particularly children), their ability to earn, their age and state of health
  4. A ruling is made

 

The idea that property is divided equally between former partners is a myth, one that your family lawyer will quickly dispel. As stated above, how much of the property settlement a party is entitled to depends on their overall contribution during the marriage and other factors post-divorce.

 

Is it possible to settle without involving the courts?

Your family lawyer will encourage it. If mediation is a possibility it’s the better option to take. Property settlement is easier when both sides, though separated, still have a good relationship. Issues like child custody, and deciding who gets the home and inheritances settle faster through mediation. Going through the courts takes time and money.

 

What if we weren’t married?

De facto partnerships, including same-sex partnerships, still fall under the Family Law Act after amendments were made in 2009. Former couples can apply for consent orders and spousal maintenance like any married couple. You must apply for consent orders and adjustments a year after the divorce was final (two years for de facto relationships).

 

My partner is trying to sell the house/other assets. What do I do?

Get legal advice and apply for an injunction immediately. This stops any sale in its tracks. If it’s too late to stop the sale, your lawyer can at least apply for the money to be ‘frozen’ until the settlement is final.

 

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Handling divorce at Christmas with the kids

6 of the best things you can do when divorce gets emotional

When a separation happens, it’s logical to contact a divorce lawyer to guide you through the process. There’s a lot of advice for them to give and they can’t explain it all in one meeting, so we compiled this list.

Help us help you.

It’s better to come prepared to the initial meeting and the ones that follow. Relevant dates (marriage, birth dates etc), financial documents such as tax information, payslips, receipts, phone records, letters, and the like will help your divorce lawyer get a better picture of the situation. It is very helpful to produce a list of all of the assets and liabilities of the marriage or relationship.

Don’t do things out of spite.

Divorces are what you make of them, and contrary to common belief there is such a thing as an amicable divorce. It’s not good to be that person who throws out their partner’s things onto the pavement and blasts angry messages over Facebook. Vindictive, angry behaviour makes resolution more difficult and in some cases amounts to family violence.

Don’t listen to divorce gossip.

No matter how good your friend’s or family’s intentions are, everyone’s situation is different. Don’t ruin a potentially smooth process by comparing your situation to your sister’s/neighbour’s/anyone else’s. It’ll cause you headaches of all different kinds.

You are important, so take care of yourself.

Get a counsellor if you need to. Lean on someone you trust (just don’t listen to their divorce advice) and be with your children. Go to the gym and sweat out some frustration. There’s no ‘emotional justice’ in divorce, or control on either side. So don’t expect to ‘win’ per se, just be happy you made it through.

The process takes time.

The courts, the law, and the paperwork in your divorce moves according to its own schedule. Litigation takes even longer thanks to court dates, applications and the like. Your divorce lawyer will advise against going to court, but sometimes it can’t get helped if there’s major issues that can’t be resolved easily. Clients shouldn’t expect to walk away from the whole affair quickly. There’s assets to divide and sometimes custody to work out.

You can’t talk to your spouse’s solicitor.

If you have representation of your own, it’s not allowed. If you try and contact them they won’t speak to you. Your own divorce lawyer is on your side and is there to convey messages. You can trust them to do it.

The shock of divorce is tough; finding a qualified lawyer or solicitor is crucial to help deal with all the challenges you’ll face on the way. Thanks to the emotional strain of separation, it’s difficult to deal with matters like child custody, splitting property and dividing assets. Having the right representation will make dealing with these much easier. But the question at the front of people’s minds is; how do I choose a family lawyer?

  • Google. A Lot.

In this day and age anyone can find anything on the internet. Going to a legal authority such as the Queensland Law Society will help you narrow down your search.

If you know someone who’s gone through a similar experience, it’s good to ask them for advice. They might even recommend the solicitor who represented them. Word of mouth is just as good as a five-star review, but both combined together are signs of a great practice.

When you’re searching the web, check a lawyer’s qualifications. Lawyers have to learn new things constantly so that they’re up to date with the latest legal developments in their speciality. They should also have recognition from a state legal society and bar association.

  • They make you feel comfortable

The family lawyer will be representing you during one of the toughest times in your life. When you sit down with them, it’s important to feel at ease. Entering a meeting and feeling your guard go up with no signs of going down isn’t a good place to start. There’s no shame in saying the solicitor you met with isn’t right for you. Sometimes people want to work with someone their own age or their own gender.

  • They tell it like it is

Your lawyer is on your side but that doesn’t mean they’re supposed to agree with everything you say. Family lawyers act in the best interests of who they represent and they’ll try to fulfil wishes to the best of their ability. Sometimes though, some desires just aren’t achievable and a good lawyer will actively work towards a compromise.

A good family lawyer also communicates with their client regularly in terms of fees and settlements. In the legal area there’s no need to put people through any more stress that they can otherwise avoid.