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It is permissible to adopt your partner’s child in Queensland, provided the process prescribed by law is followed. 

In Queensland the governing legislation is the state Adoption Act 2009 (Qld) (“AA”) and the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“FLA”). The adoption process is conducted in the Family Court of Australia, a Queensland Magistrates Court (“Children’s Court”) and via the government department, Adoption Service Queensland – Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (“DOCS”).

The effect of step-parent adoption is a person assumes parental responsibility and becomes a parent for the child of their married or de facto partner, while the biological parent ceases being a parent and ceases to have parental responsibility under the FLA. Any parenting orders that previously existed cease to be in force.

What is the adoption process?

The adoption process starts with an application filed in the Family Court for leave (i.e. permission) to enter your name in the expression of interest registrar with DOCS to adopt the subject child, and then make an application to the State Magistrates Court.

Section 60G FLA provides:

Family Court may grant leave for adoption proceedings by prescribed adopting parent:

  1. Subject to subsection (2)…the Family Court… may grant leave for proceedings to be commenced for the adoption of a child by a prescribed adopting parent.
  2. In proceedings for leave under subsection (1), the court must consider whether granting leave would be in the child’s best interests, having regard to the effect of paragraph 60F(4)(a), or paragraph 60HA(3)(a), and of sections 61E and 65J.

Note: Sections 60CB to 60CG deal with how a court determines a child’s best interests.

The requirements of this section were examined by Murphy J in Lowe and Anor & Clayton [2011] FamCA 1024. In this case the application was heard ex parte as the subject child’s biological father couldn’t be located. His Honour noted of the process, “It is somewhat odd that it is necessary to apply to one court for leave to apply to another court for an exercise of the latter’s ordinary jurisdiction. Nevertheless, that is the consequence of the provisions of the Family Law Act 1975.

1. FLA section 60HA(3)(a) and 60F(4)(a)
2. FLA section 61E
3.  FLA section 65J

4.  Lowe and Anor & Clayton [2011] FamCA 1024 at 3

In dealing with the ex parte application His Honour considered evidence from the mother as to the biological father’s whereabouts, her efforts to contact him, past history of significant family violence, his history of psychiatric illness and made an Order dispensing with the requirement for service. 

What are the requirements for leave to adopt a step child?

Section 60G requires that the court consider granting leave only if it is in the best interests of the child to do so, and having regard to:

  • In considering leave for the adoption proceedings to be commenced, best interests must be looked at in light of the fact the child will cease to be a child of the marriage for the purposes the FLA Section 4 FLA defines “child of the marriage” by reference to section 60F(1) to (4) as children to which children the FLA applies. The effect of this is a biological parent is effectively removed from being a person with standing (i.e. a person who is able) to bring an application in relation to the child for a parenting order This also applies to children of de facto relationships.
  • The court must consider that parental responsibility will be re allocated to another person.
  • The Court must consider the effect of existing parenting orders no longer being in effect after adoption.
  • The note to the section makes it clear that “best interests” is determined by reference to the matters that are typically considered by the court exercising jurisdiction pursuant to Part VII FLA in making a parenting order. 

In the decision referred to above Murphy J went on to hold that as an application pursuant to section 60G was “a child related proceeding”, Division 12A FLA also applied, which allows the judge to determine whether strict rules of evidence apply in conducting the hearing. Further, His Honour observed that also these applications are child related proceedings that section 96ZN ought to apply, which requires the court to consider the impact of the conduct of the proceeding on the child, and that the court actively direct and manage the proceeding to avoid undue delay, technicality and form. 

While the Family Court is not required to consider the matters to be determined by the Sate Magistrates Court these matters do bear upon whether the decision to grant leave is in the best interests of the child. 

Her Honour Hogan J said in Hurst and Anor & Chapman [2014] FamCA 506 that in considering section 208 AA the Family Court should not grant leave if appeared proceedings in a State court were doomed to fail because of non-compliance with mandatory prerequisites.

Another requirement of the AA section 16 and 175 is that the biological parent consents to the adoption. In the two cases referred to consent was not available because in one the biological parent was deceased, and in the other couldn’t be located. 

After leave to adopt has been granted

Once leave has been granted the process commences with the adopting parent’s name being entered in the expression of interest registrar with DOCS – Adoption Services Queensland.

This commences a process which culminates in a “suitability report” being produced which is put before the Children’s Court in ultimately determining the final adoption application. An approved form, known as a Form 7 commences this process.

5. Lowe and Anor & Clayton [2011] FamCA 1024 at 32
6. FLA section 60F(4)(a)
7.  However, section 65C(c) may allow a person with an interest in the care, welfare or development of a child standing to bring an application.
8. FLA section 60HA(3)(a)
9.  FLA section 61E
10.  FLA section65J
11.  Lowe and Anor & Clayton [2011] FamCA 1024 at 15
12. Lowe and Anor & Clayton [2011] FamCA 1024 at 16
13.  AA section 208
14. Lowe and Anor & Clayton [2011] FamCA 1024 at 20 to 22
15. Hurst and Anor & Chapman [2014] FamCA 506 at 8
16. AA sections 138 and 203
17.  AA sections 92 and 93

To be eligible to adopt the following must be established:

  • The applicant is a spouse (or de facto spouse) of a parent of the child.
  • The applicant has lived with the spouse parent and the child for a continuous period of at least 3 years.
  • Leave has been granted by the Family Court (as above).
  • The applicant is an adult and resident or domiciled within Australia.
  • The applicant and spouse are Australian citizens.
  • The subject child is agreed between 5 years and 17 years (an application for a child who is 17 can be made if the process can be completed before the child turns 18 and the grounds for the adoption are likely to exist.)

Consent of the biological parent

The general position is that the child’s parents must consent before the adoption can take place in Queensland. The AA provides for counselling to take place as part of this process.

In some circumstances the requirements for consent can be dispensed with, such as:

  • Applicant can’t establish the identity of the parent.
  • The applicant cannot locate the parent after all reasonable enquiries.
  • The parent is a lineal relative of the mother.
  • The conception was as a result of an offence by the relevant parent.
  • There would be unacceptable risk of harm to the child or mother if the relevant parent were made aware of the birth or proposed adoption.
  • Other special circumstances for giving dispensation. 

The term “exceptional circumstances” is referred to in section 208(f) (requirements for making a final Order) and the example given is “a parent of the child has died or cannot be located after making all reasonable enquiries.” 

18. 18.  AA section 92
19. AA section 16 and 175
20.  AA section 36(4)

Children’s Court

After the permission from the Family Court is granted to commence the adoption and all of the assessments have been made, an Application is filed in the Queensland Magistrates Court (sitting as the Children’s Court) for a final Order.

The final Order is made pursuant to section 208 AA and the requirements are:

  • The child is present in Queensland.
  • The step-parent is an adult resident or domiciled in Queensland.
  • The step-parent or their spouse is an Australia Citizen.
  • The suitability matters (referred to above) are satisfied.
  • An Order for the adoption would promote the child’s well being and best interests other than could be achieved via a Parenting Order made pursuant to the Family law Act 1975.
  • There are exceptional circumstances that warrant making an Order (such as death of the biological parent).

If you are considering adopting a step-child Hooper Family Lawyers can guide you through the process and requirements.

Peter Hooper – Hooper Family Lawyers Gold Coast and Brisbane – We are Family Law specialists, providing Expert Family Law advice and representation. 

While Christmas is a time for bringing families together, unfortunately it is also a time when family disputes can occur. 

As a family lawyer of some 18 years experience I have long noted the seasonal nature of family law work, and in particular that there is an increase in family law enquiries over, or just after, the Christmas season. I imagine it has something to do with people having increased time together, the high expectation to make the holiday “special”, financial concerns and an abundance of alcohol, creating issues for some families. 

Given it is also the end of the new year perhaps it is a time for “new beginnings” and moving on with a new chapter of people’s lives and deciding to make a change.

For people who are already in dispute, Christmas can be a source of loneliness, anxiety and conflict over children’s arrangements.  Christmas holiday time and uncertainty in terms of the future can make this time of year very difficult for some people when it seems as though the rest of the world is celebrating.

What can you do to make the best out of separated parenting at Christmas?

The best answer is come to an agreement, and if you’re already in a dispute in the lead up to Christmas make sure you leave plenty of time to negotiate. Court dates can be hard to obtain in the lead up to Christmas. 

In negotiating arrangements, it is important to think in a way that promotes what is best for the children. To use a lawyer phrase, maintain “child focus”. 

This means that both parents should consider what the holiday means from the children’s perspective, when they might like to see the other parent, what are their practical needs around the holiday, and are there any safety considerations. 

Christmas is about creating memories for children, so in my view it is important in making these arrangements to think about how the children may remember the particular Christmas. 

It is also likely that the separation is something the children are coming to terms with, and thus an amicable agreement at Christmas time is going to allow them to be a bit more relaxed, reassured and enjoy their Christmas holiday time.

If you are in a situation where your ex-partner is difficult or unreasonable, early planning, good legal advice, child focus and staying calm will assist you to negotiate your way through the difficult time. 

Planning and good legal advice assists you to stay calm, knowing that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” in terms of an outcome being worked towards. 

Conversely, staying calm and child focused facilitates outcomes being achieved that are favourable for you and your children.

What about separating during the Christmas break?

Even more stressful is relationship breakdown during the holiday period. Most lawyers take time off over this period and Court dates can be difficult to obtain in all but the most urgent of matters.

Again, the recommendation is to stay as calm as possible, stay child focused and get some advice as soon as you can. As said above, advice provides you with direction and reassurance which can help you stay calm. Also, be careful what you say, text or email if there is alcohol around.

During the Christmas and New Year period in 2019 we are closed from 24 December 2019 until Monday, 6 January 2020. But …while we are closed we are never too far away and if you desperately need some assistance for family law on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane we can be contacted via email to assist at peter.hooper@hooperfamilylawyers.com.au

Stay safe and have a happy Christmas.

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.

In the last 12 months Shaun Mill of our office has completed two very significant milestones in his career as a Brisbane family lawyer.

First, Shaun graduated from his Masters degree in Applied Family Law in 2018; and second, Shaun has successfully completed Accredited Specialisation – Family Law in November 2019.

Most, if not all, Australian lawyers would be familiar with the Specialist Accreditation program overseen by the various State Law Societies.

The purpose of the program is to signal to the public utilising legal services that a practitioner has a higher level of experience and knowledge within the area of specialisation. On the Queensland Law Society website, the Society says of the program:

The program provides practitioners with an opportunity to be formally recognised for their high level of competence and knowledge in their particular area of expertise… [and provides] … the public, and the legal profession, with a link to practitioners who are leaders in their field. Accredited specialists have successfully completed an advanced, peer reviewed assessment program specific to their area of expertise. The Specialist Accreditation Logo and post nominals, are a nationally recognised “mark of excellence”.”

In completing his assessment Shaun has undergone rigorous practical and written examinations, been required to provide peer references, and he has met the minimum 5 years of practice predominately within the field (in Shaun’s case almost 7 years exclusively in Family Law at the time of writing this).

Shaun grew up in the Redlands and started his career at Hooper Family Lawyers doing some work experience and accompanying me to Court in his 4rd year at uni of his 5 year double degree. Just prior to completing his degree in 5th year he came to work for us full time and completed his PLT graduate diploma (practical legal training) while working with us.

In the years following Shaun has gone from strength to strength and has established himself as an excellent practitioner with a very bright career ahead of him. I am very proud to have had the opportunity to mentor Shaun and to have him as part of my firm.

During all of this hard work Shaun has also managed to travel to Europe, the USA and Maldives on separate occasions, get married to his lovely wife and become a father to his beautiful daughter… congratulations Shaun.

Why a family lawyer is necessary?

Once the dust settles from the immediate emotional aspects of a separation, for many people thoughts will turn towards how and what is the best course of action to facilitate a swift, clean and lest costly relationship breakup.

From a myriad of concerns, things such as financial support and obligations, entitlement to a property settlement, child custody and child support often feature prominently in terms of the information people require.

What can also be complicating for people is misinformation. Misinformation can come from well-intentioned family and friends reciting “back yard barbeque advice” and anecdotes about a guy they know who had a divorce, through to the large quantity of information available on the internet, often lacking context, explanation and/or completeness.

The reality is the family law in Australia is incredibly complex and nuanced. Nuanced in that remedies are often discretionary and subject to legislative requirements that have only been defined by a significant body of case law. Judges for the most part have their own style of conducting their Court and hearings.

All of this means that it is incredibly important for people experiencing a separation to obtain advice from a lawyer that is both experienced and knowledgeable in the family law system.

Bad advice and bad decisions early on can go a long way towards making separation more painful, drawn out and expensive.

First family law appointment

The first appointment or initial attendance is very important for most clients. Typically, clients will have many questions, they will be anxious about their financial future or parenting after separation; and they may be struggling with emotional aspects of the separation. If they haven’t dealt with lawyers before this may also be a source of stress.

While information and guidance is important, it is also important for the client to get a feel for their lawyer as a person, and determine whether they have confidence in the lawyer and can develop a rapport.

An essential skill for a good family lawyer is the ability to listen to a client. Listening is more than just recording the client’s story. It is about picking up on the subtext and non-verbal cues that allow the lawyer to understand their client and their client’s case. Asking the right questions of a client is also important for the lawyer in gathering information. If the lawyer doesn’t understand your case, they cannot properly advise you or advocate for it in Court.

Once a client has explained their situation and needs, the lawyer can provide information and guidance. As well as information regarding the relevant law and procedure from a theoretical and practical perspective, information also covers:

  • Other services that may be required such reconciliation counselling, accounting and financial advice, mortgage brokers, family violence services, parenting courses, mediators etc;
  • Strategy both long and short term to best manage the pathway to resolving the matter as swiftly and cost effectively as possible. This can include mediation where relevant or going to court, what to expect at court or representation in court;
  • Guidance with respect to dealing with an ex-partner such as managing behaviour and how to respond to the difficult ex-partner;
  • The importance and nature of evidence as it is used in negotiations or within the formal court environment;
  • Your responsibilities under the law including as a separated parent and to make full and frank disclosure of financial matters;
  • How to manage your legal costs and avoid excessive legal fees.

I consider the initial attendance sufficiently important that Hooper Family Lawyers does two things that many other family lawyers don’t do.

Firstly, we don’t put a limit on the time we spend with a person at the initial attendance. We consider that the above is sufficiently important to warrant spending as much time as is necessary to ensure the lawyer has a complete understanding of the client’s needs; and the client has their questions answered; and understands the lawyer’s advice and recommendations.

Secondly, we don’t time cost for an initial attendance. We charge fixed fee ensuring people do not feel rushed by time costing.

One of the most rewarding moments for me as a family lawyer is the feedback I get at the conclusion of an initial attendance. The most common response is “I feel so much better now”. It’s not just the words, but the change in demeanour and expression from when a person walks into the office, to when they are walking out with clear short- and long-term guidance.

What do I need to do or bring if I want to see a family lawyer?

A phone call or email and a booking is the first step.

If you can bring information regarding relevant dates such as birthdays, de facto cohabitation or marriage dates, separation dates etc this is helpful. In property matters it is also helpful if you can provide a list of what you and your partner or ex-partner own and owe (including superannuation or other interests).

At the end of the day though if you don’t have this information, we can still help you, and for us family law problems have solutions.

If you would like to meet with us contact Hooper Family Lawyers at Victoria Point on (07) 3207 7663; or Hooper Family Lawyers Coolangatta on (07) 5599 3026.

Separation and divorce are unfortunate and significant life events that many people go through.

For people separating while there is the obvious grief, anger and pain over the loss of a relationship, these feelings are often compounded by fear of an uncertain future, financial concerns and child custody issues.

Read more

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.

 

How is a child custody dispute resolved in Queensland without going to Court?

Firstly, parenting disputes in Queensland are dealt with in the same way as for the majority of the Country.

This is because since most States referred their power over children’s matters back to the Commonwealth. Thus, the law concerning parenting after separation, parental responsibility, child support and custody come under Federal Legislation and Courts i.e. the Family Law Act 1975, Child Support Assessment Act 1989 and the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Under the Family Law Act 1975 the focus is very much towards assisting parents to resolve parenting cases themselves, with the necessity of a Judge determining who children will live with and spend time with being a last resort.

The first step in Parenting Matters – Family Dispute Resolution and the Section 60I Certificate

Prior to commencing parenting proceedings,it is necessary to attend Family Dispute Resolution or FDR. This is in effect a Mediation where an independent mediator trained as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) assists the parties to make a parenting agreement, usually recorded in a Parenting Plan.

After the parties attend this mediation, the Registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner is required to produce a “mediation certificate” if requested by a party.[1]These certificates are commonly referred to as section 60I certificates and can be issued on any of the following grounds:

  • The client did not attend FDR due to the other party’s refusal or failure to attend;[2]
  • The client did not attend FDR or began attending FDR but the practitioner considered that it would not be appropriate to conduct or continue the FDR in the circumstances;[3]
  • That the client attended FDR and made a genuine effort to resolve the issues;[4] or
  • The client attended FDR but did not make a genuine effort to resolve the issues.[5]

[1]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (7).

[2]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (8) (a).

[3]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (8) (aa) and (d).

[4]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (8) (b).

 

Exceptions to needing a Section 60I Certificate

The following exceptions allow a party to commence proceedings without a certificate:

  • There has been abuse of the child by one of the parties;[6]
  • There is risk of abuse of the child if there was a delay in bringing the proceedings;[7]
  • There has been family violence or risk of family violence;[8]
  • The application is urgent;[9]
  • One party is unable to participate effectively in FDR;[10] or
  • One party has contravened Orders that were made within the last 12 months and the Application is in relation to that breach.[11]

What happens if you don’t have a section 60I Certificate?

The court will refuse to accept an Application for filing that does not have a certificate attached or an affidavit of non-filing of dispute resolution certificate with the appropriate exception addressed.

If a party attends FDR but does not make a genuine effort, the court may make an order requiring the parties to go to FDR again and the court might make a costs order against that party.[12]

Other issues before going to the Family Law Court

There are also strict pre-action procedures that have to be followed in the Family Court.[13] These do not exist in the Federal Circuit Court;however, it is good practice to follow them.[14]

Here a party must provide the pre-action brochure to the other party and engage in settlement discussions.[15]Also, forward a notice of intention to commence proceedings.[16] This notice must set out the issues in dispute, the orders being sought, a further offer to resolve the matter and a timeframe to respond (no shorter than 14 days).[17]


[5]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (8) (c).

[6]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (9) (b) (i).

[7]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (9) (b) (ii).

[8]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (9) (b) (iii) and(iv).

[9]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (9) (b) (i).

[10]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (9) (e).

[11]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60I (9) (c).

[12]Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s117.

[13] Family Law Rules 2004 r1.05.

[14] Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 r1.03.

 

The party receiving the Notice is required to respond to this with their position[18]and hopefully this is a further incentive for the party to resolve their dispute without the Court making a decision.

There are exceptions to pre-action procedures, including grounds of urgency, where allegations of family violence exist or a genuinely intractable dispute.[19]

The pre-action procedures specifically state the parties must have regard to the following matters in relation to children:

  • The best interests of the children;[20]
  • Maintaining good co-parenting relationship;[21]
  • The potential damage to a child who is involved in the dispute;[22] and
  • Not seek orders that are not in the best interests of the children.[23]

The outcomes in custody disputes –without having to go to Court?

If an agreement can be reached between the parties in dispute there are several options for record the agreement:

  • Parenting Plan;
  • Consent Order.

A Parenting Plan is simply a written record of the agreement and only requires that the agreement be in writing, signed and dated.[24] A Parenting Plan is not enforceable, however if there is a further dispute requiring Court action the Judge will have regard to the most recent Parenting Plan when making a Parenting Order.[25]


[15] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 3 (1).

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

[17] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 3 (5).

[18] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 3 (6).

[19] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 1 (4).

[20] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 1 (6) (a).

[21] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 1 (6) (b).

[22] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 1 (6) (c).

[23] Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 1 Part 1 (6) (d).

[24] Family Law Act 1975 Section 63C.

A Consent Order is made with a higher degree of formality and is enforceable. Even though the Consent Order is the party’s agreement the Court can only make the Order if legislative requirements for Parenting Orders are followed, for example, the Court would only make the Order if the best interests of the subject children were the paramount consideration.[26]

For a Consent Order an appearance in court is not necessary and the Orders can be made “in chambers” with the documents being sent to the Court by post.

Hooper Family Lawyers at Victoria Point and Hooper Family Lawyers on the Gold Coast can assist parents in mediation and to resolve parenting matters before you have to go to court. Peter Hooper of our office is a Nationally Accredited Mediator and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner able to provide FDR to people wanting to reach their own agreements.

[25] Family Law Act 1975 Section 65DAB.

[26] Family Law Act 1975 Section 60CA.

I have set out some common concerns and questions I’ve heard from people repeatedly over the years, and I plan on doing this in a number of separate articles.

It is impossible in an article such as this to provide definitive answers to every question, and everyone’s situation is different. However, I hope what follows might be a useful guide for obtaining preliminary information.

Affordable Family Lawyers

Legal services can be expensive and often people are afraid to get advice or approach a lawyer due to fear of costs.

Sometimes however poor advice or no advice can cost you more. Here are my best tips to minimise Family Law costs:

  • Have a discussion about costs up front. Ask the lawyer how they charge and what the rate will be. It is open for you to negotiate the rate or how the charges will be levied, for example, time costing or fixed fee. We find fixed fees for consent orders, pre-nuptial agreements and Divorce applications very popular with our Brisbane and Coolangatta clients.
  • If you are being time costed make sure you understand what work needs to be done in advance, and that you are “kept in the loop” with estimates for the cost of the work to be done. Lawyers are required to provide you with an estimate of costs at certain times and upon request.
  • Ask what you can do to reduce costs. One of the simple ways to reduce costs is present your instructions to the lawyer in an easily understood format. To assist our clients we have template documents, and detailed assistance to help our clients complete these documents themselves. We settle the final draft and the effect is a lot of our time, and your money, is saved.
  • Make sure your lawyer knows what they’re doing. Inexperienced lawyers can take a lot longer to complete a task and unfortunately you even get charged more with time costing. Bad advice can be devastating in terms of costs. Family law is a very complex area of practice and a specialist family lawyer can end up saving you a lot of money.

Of course, one of the absolutely best ways to save costs is to settle early, and minimise conflict, by taking a business-like approach to your separation, and following expert legal advice.

What if I have no available cash for legal fees?

This is not an uncommon scenario where one party may control the marital finances or be a primary income earner. The other party may have much less access to resources.

I have written a detailed article on what lawyers call a “Hogan” or “Barrow” Order on my site, situated at the following link:

https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/applications-for-litigation-expenses-aka-hogan-orders/

These Orders allow for legal costs to be met by the other spouse.

Other options include the following:

  • Deferred fee agreements. This is where the family lawyer accepts payment in full after the matter is concluded. It is important to understand this is not usually “no win, no fee” for family law matters. The fee will be payable at the end and sometimes firms will charge a higher rate to reflect their risk, and impact upon the cash flow of their practice. It remains important to consider the ways to reduce costs discussed above, to ask for estimates as to what the costs are, and to ask where the account is at regularly.
  • Legal Aid preferred suppliers. If you meet the asset and income criteria, and your matter meets Legal Aid criteria, you may receive a grant of aid. Most commonly this is for parenting matters and you need to re-apply for the next grant of aid after each step is completed. Typically, the grant commences with a Legal Aid Conference (mediation) being conducted.
  • Litigation lending. This is another option where some lenders will provide funding for your matter. The down side here is interest and changes that can apply.

Like each aspect of your matter you need advice. When booking in for an initial attendance with your family lawyer costs should form an important part of the discussion and advice.

Who pays the mortgage after separation?

This is often an issue when one party moves out and suddenly has to meet their own rental costs. The reality is the home loan secured by mortgage is between the parties and the bank or lender.

The bank or lender won’t consider the separation should affect their rights, and if the bank/lender doesn’t get paid they can exercise their right of foreclosure and sell the property (usually at a lesser price).

The Family Law Act 1975 does allow for Orders to be made directing a party to continue to meet mortgage expenses, and this can occur in a number of ways such as Spousal Maintenance or as on Interim Property Order, however, you need to file an Application in Court before this can occur. Also, the evidence would need to establish why the Court should make the Order you are seeking.

Some simple tips for addressing this issue are:

  • Consider what will be the long-term option i.e. will the party remaining in the home retain it and refinance? Will it need to be sold? Looking at the long term might help in working out what the short-term arrangements will be. For example, if the party remaining at the home wants to keep it, it may make sense that they meet the mortgage costs.
  • Come to an agreement with the other party as to what should occur. After considering the potential long-term arrangements, make an agreement as to the mechanics of when payments will be made, what account they will come from and if a sale is necessary, how will that occur (agents, marketing plans etc). A property can be sold before a final property settlement occurs. In my experience when there is a pool of cash to be divided often parties are motivated to reach an agreement. The only issue here I would flag is to make sure that the proceeds of sale are held in a solicitor’s trust account, for both parties, pending final agreement. Once money is distributed it can be difficult to claw back. If the parties need to access some cash to re-establish it can be agreed that each party receives a similar small amount.
  • For difficult partners or people who stay at the home and will not/cannot contribute to expenses, you may need creative solutions or a Court. If there are children at the home with the partner living there, a creative solution may be to agree to mortgage repayments being made in lieu of child support. Provided there are no domestic violence issues, the ousted party moving back in may be an option. If there is no cooperation with reaching agreement or progressing to final settlement, then Court intervention may be warranted.

How the Court regards a party’s post separation payments to the mortgage is by way of “post separation contributions”. What this means is that these payments can be recognised by the Judge in determining how much of the property pool each party gets.

Similarly, if a party causes loss by negligently, recklessly or wantonly refusing to pay the mortgage (and for example a foreclosure occurs), the Court may penalise that party in the final settlement.

Should I move out of the family home, or be separated under one roof?

Usually family lawyers will say don’t move out.

The reasons why include some of the issues referred to above in relation to mortgage costs and incurring additional rental costs.

Also, you can lose control of maintaining the asset in a saleable condition, if a sale is necessary.

If there is a situation where the other party is difficult, sitting in the home comfortably having the mortgage paid, Court application may become more likely. In my experience these situations can stifle settlement and lead to Family Court or Federal Circuit Court proceedings.

Separation under one roof is usually less than ideal, and uncomfortable for both parties, which can be a good motivator for a speedy settlement.

The big caveat on the above is domestic violence and personal safety. These always come first and if you, children or pets are in danger you should immediately leave to a place of safety.

Hopefully the above answers some question but it is no substitute for proper advice tailored to your situation.

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 Brisbane office on 3207 7663 or our Coolangatta office on 5599 3026 for an appointment.

 

Need more answers? Read our blogs;

https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/going-to-court-what-to-expect/

https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/relevant-family-law-fault-relationship-breakdown/

It is not uncommon for people meeting with their family lawyer for the first time to raise issues of fault, wrong doing or poor conduct by the other party.

Many people automatically assume these are the types of issues that will be most relevant in the event that going to Court becomes necessary.

In my experience, if a party is suffering from the loss of the relationship, betrayal associated with an extra-marital affair or fear of change, retribution and validation of those feelings can also drive a client’s perception as to what is relevant or important. Again, in my experience, this often manifests as an aggressive approach to litigation, intractable positions, and allegations being raised in correspondence and court documents and in some cases harassing behaviour or family violence.

 

In general terms, what does the Family Law say about fault or conduct?

Prior to the Family Law reforms in 1975, there were 14 grounds for Divorce, the majority of which were fault based. This included conduct such as habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, desertion, adultery, imprisonment etc.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 was repealed in 1975 to remove the 14 grounds and introduce one ground, that is, “irretrievable breakdown of the marital relationship”.

Whilst proving fault under the 14 grounds was difficult and often unsavoury (imagine private investigators spying on people to prove an affair, or taking photographs etc), proving the irretrievable breakdown ground only requires a 12-month period of separation.

The general flavour of the reform across the wider areas of parenting orders, property settlement and spousal maintenance, was also to recognise the undesirability of “fault” paying a part and to move away from evidence relating to bad conduct being raised in proceedings.

 

Does fault pay any part now then?

The answer is yes.

In some circumstances fault still does play a role. Not with respect to divorce but in relation to certain aspects of parenting, property and spousal maintenance.

 

Parenting orders

As I have discussed elsewhere on this site, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court judges have a broad discretion to make Parenting Orders subject to the best interests of children being the paramount consideration, and considering the Objects and Principles underpinning the Family Law Act 1975 relating to children’s cases.

Often fault or conduct will be relevant in determining whether children are at an unacceptable risk of harm, whether a parent has capacity to properly care for children, maturity and lifestyle of the parents, family violence and other conduct depending on the circumstances.

Thus, conduct such as family violence, alcohol/substance dependency issues and poor lifestyle choices (for example surrounding neglect) can clearly be understood as being relevant in a child custody case.

In my experience however, it sometimes occurs that people will want to place greater restrictions on the other parent’s time as “punishment” for bad behaviour, such as extramarital affairs or re-partnering, and this is not something relevant to who children live with or spend time with.

Indeed, this type of anger can often backfire, with the party’s who’s conduct is creating high conflict being examined as a potential source of risk of emotional harm to children.

This is where a good family lawyer can help, by determining the relevant from the irrelevant and assessing the evidence which is the currency of any court.

 

Property settlement

In my view there is less scope for fault or conduct to be relevant in a property matter.

Again, anger over affairs, re-partnering, loss of a life partner etc is not directly relevant but it can certainly drive a dispute. Family lawyers can assist in filtering some emotion from communications and how your evidence is presented.

Mediators assist by diagnosing the underlying causes of a dispute and using interventions such as reframing to provide a more neutral or positive interpretation of events.

Some examples of the type of conduct that can be relevant is as follows:

  • Losses from reckless, wanton or negligent conduct. This would include deliberately destroying an asset, things such as gambling losses or behaviour such as removing or hiding property without sufficient explanation. The conduct would be relevant, but the judge retains a broad discretion as to how the conduct will affect distribution of assets.
  • Family violence in some limited circumstances can be regarded. Lawyers often call these cases Kennon cases”. In these situations, one party’s violence has made the other party’s contributions to the property pool, or welfare of the family, more onerous. From a practical perspective evidence may be difficult to obtain to establish the “special burden” and the weight this evidence will be afforded is at the judge’s discretion.
  • Generally, a Court will consider you take your partner as they are i.e. a spend thrift or a saver, however in some circumstances it may be possible to argue “negative contribution” due to excessive habits or poor judgement with money. While cases often interpret this type of behaviour differently it will usually come down to a question of degree in the context of the amount of property available for distribution.

 

How Hooper Family Lawyers Gold Coast and Brisbane can help?

The Family Law jurisdiction is complex and often judges have broad discretion to weigh and interpret evidence. As experienced, specialist family law solicitors we can identify for you what is relevant, tell you how we think a Court will interpret the evidence you present us with, provide a filter for emotion or anger and move towards a faster resolution.

As identified above, sometimes placing evidence of irrelevant conduct or the making allegations of misconduct without sufficient evidence can back fire for your case and put you in a worse position. Thus, your choice of solicitor is an important one.

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 5599 3026 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/

 

1 – Section 60CC(3)(m) refers to any other fact or circumstance that the court thinks is relevant. Thus, there is a potential for almost any other form of conduct to be raised if it’s is relevant.

2 – In the marriage of Kennon [1997]F.L.C.92-757