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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

On 30 May 2018 the Federal Government announced a significant shake up of the Australian Family Law Courts system.

Currently the Courts primarily exercising jurisdiction pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975 are the Federal Circuit Court (formerly the Federal Magistrates Court) and Family Court.

The Federal Circuit Court is responsible for the bulk of cases while the Family Court hears more complex cases and is responsible for Appeals.

It is envisaged these two Courts will merge into one new Court, namely, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

 

Court structure

Currently the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court share a registry, and this will effectively continue with the new Court having its own registry for all matters to be commenced in.

There will however be two divisions for the Court, with Division one consisting of the Federal Circuit Court judges; and Division two being made up of the Judges from the Family Court. A new Family Law Appeal division will be created within the Federal Court of Australia.

The details are not yet available however we can expect to see proposed legislation shortly.

One aspect that Family Lawyers will no doubt appreciate is moving towards one set of Court Rules as opposed to the current system operating under the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 and the Family Court Rules 2004.

 

What this means for our clients

Hopefully this means a timelier resolution of Family Law matters and giving greater identification and consideration to complex issues cases.

The attorney Generals Department Fact Sheet states the aim is:

“…will create a consistent pathway for Australian Families in having their Family Law disputes dealt with in the first instance. The reforms are designed to maximise the use of highly trained and skilled judicial officers…to significantly improve access to justice for Australian families…improve efficiency…remove back log…drive faster, cheaper and more consistent resolution of disputes…”

Hopefully these aims can be achieved, and as many of our clients (or people currently in the Family Law system) would know, there have been lengthy delays in many registries including Brisbane, Lismore and Southport.

The Attorney General’s department has issued two fact sheets with respect to the proposed reforms and the fact and figures underlying the reforms, the links appear below:

  1. https://www.familylawsection.org.au/images/documents/20180530—Court-Reform-Fact-Sheet-1—w-Diagram.pdf
  2. https://www.familylawsection.org.au/images/documents/20180530—Court-Reform-Fact-Sheet-2.pdf

 

When will this take place?

Firstly, the legislation needs to be passed, but all going well the commencement date will be 1 January 2019.

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.

Mediation is when two conflicting parties in an argument come together with an impartial mediator, whose role is to impartially facilitate discussion and negotiation. The aim is to find a resolution for their dispute and avoid costly, lengthy and emotionally taxing litigation and Court proceedings.

Family Dispute Resolution (or FDR) is defined in section 10F Family Law Act 1975 as:

“A process (other than a judicial process) in which a family dispute resolution practitioner helps people affected, or likely to be affected, by separation or divorce to resolve some or all of their disputes with each other; and in which the practitioner is independent of all of the parties involved in the process

A Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) is a mediator, accredited with the Attorney General Department after undergoing additional and specific training.

People looking at their options for mediation have lots of questions about what a mediator does and how the FDRP process works. Some of these questions are listed below.

 

  • Mediation vs divorce lawyer – What’s the difference?

Your lawyer is your advocate retained to represent your interests in a Family Law matter or Divorce proceeding. They work in your best interest to get you the best outcome possible. Your ex-partner’s Divorce lawyer will do the same for them. Lawyers are required in litigation before the Court which can be a consuming process, both emotionally and financially.

Mediation empowers separated couples to find an outcome themselves, with or without lawyers being involved. Discussions in mediation are ‘without prejudice’ and cannot be used as evidence in Court if an agreement isn’t reached.

Mediators provide a structure/process for discussions to occur. They address:

  • power imbalances between the opposing sides through interventions
  • assist the parties to better understand the interests and concerns of the other party
  • facilitate negotiation

Most importantly, the mediator is impartial while a Divorce Lawyer represents only one side in the dispute.

 

  • Are the mediation sessions confidential?

Divorce litigation, where the matter goes to court, are confidential and protected by confidentiality provisions in the Family Law Act 1975.

Mediation and FDR is also confidential, and the discussions are “without prejudice” which means the proceedings can’t be used in evidence. There are exceptions to confidentiality though, such as:

  • if a party makes threats to commit a criminal offense
  • information regarding commission of a crime comes to light
  • there’s information regarding risk to a child

The mediator or FDRP is required by the Regulations to report in the above circumstances.

 

  • I don’t feel safe, what should I do?

Mediation or FDR may not be appropriate if there’s family violence or other power imbalances that affect a party’s ability to participate effectively in the process.

Prior to mediation your mediator or FDRP will usually contact you with a series of questions as part of a screening process. The screening process will allow the mediator or FDRP to decide whether the mediation should proceed.

If there’s family violence but the mediator thinks mediation can proceed, the process can be conducted by way of ‘shuttle’ with the parties kept separately and the mediator acting as a go between.

 

  • What happens if we can’t agree?

Sometimes parties can’t resolve their differences with the assistance of mediation. Sometimes couples, despite their good intentions, just can’t agree. Hopefully some issues can be narrowed or better understood via the process and in parenting matters the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner can issue a Section 60I Certificate allowing the parties to file in Court. The Certificate will indicate to the Court one of the following from the FDR:

  • The parties attended and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute;
  • The parties attended but one or both did not make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute;
  • Mediation didn’t proceed because one party didn’t attend after being invited by the FDRP;
  • Mediation wasn’t appropriate.

 

  • But what happens when we do agree?

Depending on the dispute there are different potential outcomes if the parties agree.

For property settlement disputes, heads of agreement can be reached and signed which set out the basis for a Consent Order, or Binding Financial Agreement, to be produced.

In parenting disputes, a Parenting Plan will record the agreement which may or may not be made into a Consent Order at a later date. Whether there is a Consent Order, or the agreement remains as a Parenting Plan is a matter for the parties.

 

  • What will mediation do for me?

Mediation empowers the parties to make their own decisions. This tends to create a greater likelihood for satisfaction with respect to outcomes (particularly as an alternative to having a Judge impose an Order).

Experienced Family Lawyers will understand that very often neither party walks away satisfied from “having their day in Court”. Mediation can significantly reduce costs of litigation, the delays often experienced with the process and the animosity created by the opposing side.

Particularly in parenting matters where child focus is important, mediation can assist the parties to move away from entrenched positions. FDR allows them to closely explore each other’s interests and the best interests of the children in the dispute.

 

I once heard a Judge tell a mother and father, “I don’t know your children, or love your children – why do you want me to make these important decisions for them”.

 

Need more information? Read these:

A child custody lawyer is no stranger to disputes, separations, and court proceedings. They’ve seen and experienced it all. Having a lawyer like this during a difficult time is best for the parent who doesn’t know where to start or who to turn to. The lawyer’s sat through hostile disputes, the more ‘civilised’ mediations, and custody matters going to court.

Despite this, some people might ask:“is this person qualified?”. Skepticism is natural and, of course, you want the best. Any legal practioner you meet has worked long and hard to get to where they are today. They’d have gone to university, then proceeded to Practical Legal Training. This is required in all states except Western Australia. Completing the practical training earns them a Graduate Certificate in Legal Practice. The prospective lawyers must then apply for a license to practice and admission to the law society in their state. Having a membership with a society puts their name on a “roll call” of lawyers that are qualified to work. 

Lawyers are constantly educating themselves; they attend seminars and receive updates from the law societies they’re registered with. Every few years, attourneys and law practices must update their licenses in order to keep working.

After reading all the above information, you know your lawyer is qualified for at least general practice. Many lawyers and solicitors commonly go on to study their masters, attain graduate diplomas, and have memberships with the Queensland Law Society and the Family Law Practitioners Association. Child custody lawyers, or at least other employees in the firm, can work as solicitors and mediators. You’ll want these people on your side during dispute resolution, something compulsory in every custody case.

There is no official title for ‘child custody lawyers’ as such, but there’s attourneys who’ve got experience with parenting disputes. Offices like Hooper Family Lawyers deal with cases involving custody issues, domestic violence, and property law among others.

A child custody lawyer goes through years of formal education but never stops learning. They earn their stripes at university, through traineeships, and long hours. Clients come to them during one of the most difficult periods they’ll ever face. But the lawyer has seen and experienced it all.

Separation is usually stressful but often more so where domestic violence has characterised the relationship, or has become present on separation.

Domestic or family violence has several definitions and can be physical, emotional, financial, sexual, social or spiritual. Often domestic violence is grounded in one person attempting to exercise their control over another person.

Research into domestic violence indicates there are categories or characteristics to the behaviour that professionals working with people caught up in violent relationships ought to recognise. Some examples are:

  • “Coercive and controlling violence” – where violence is used to disempower or control another person;
  • “Situational” -where arguments escalate to the point of violence, often by both parties towards each other;
  • “Violent resistance” – when a partner uses violence to defend against abuse;
  • “Separation induced violence” – often isolated acts of violence in response to the stress of separation, seeking to regain control.

Nobody should ever feel unsafe in a relationship. But for your health and safety, there are important steps to take when you separate in circumstances of family violence.

Escape – Physical safety first

If you are in a situation of immediate danger remove yourself, children and pets from that situation.

If you are unable to get to safety you should immediately call Police.

Getting to safety is often very difficult for practical, financial and emotional reasons however there is support available.

Some of the assistance currently available is:

  • DV Connect Women’s Line 1800 811 811
  • DV Connect Men’s Line 1800 600 636
  • Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800
  • Lifeline 13 11 14

Currently the Queensland Government has useful information available on the following link:

https://www.qld.gov.au/community/getting-support-health-social-issue/domestic-family-violence-getting-help/

Some organisations recommend preparing a “go bag” that includes clothes, cash and essentials for the children. Having copies of financial information, and other important paperwork such as pass ports is important as well. The Domestic Violence Crisis Service has a useful checklist that can help with the planning.

Get a lawyer

Empowering yourself includes getting a legal specialist on your side to assist you.

In this situation knowledge is power; and knowing your rights with respect to Protection Orders, child custody, property settlement and court procedures, can assist you to with separation strategy. Your lawyer is your guide during this tough time.

Some charity organisations against domestic violence offer free advice or you may be eligible for legal aid. Some lawyers, such as Hooper Family Lawyers, are private firms on the Legal Aid Queensland panel who can make the application for you, and be nominated as your family law solicitor.

Tell someone

If you are living with family violence speak up.

Ideally you would make a complaint to Police if you are a victim, however you may not yet be prepared to make a formal complaint.  

Counselling services such as those referred to above may be able to assist and if you need someone to talk to.

Trusted friends and family members can also be good people to talk to regarding the situation as well as a trusted general medical practitioner.

It is important that you are certain whoever you talk to will not report back to the perpetrator.

What if a Protection Order is breached?

A breach of a Protection Order in Queensland is a criminal offence.

If a Protection Order has gotten breached, the Police will require evidence before bringing criminal charges against the perpetrator. In criminal court matters, there is a higher standard of proof (“beyond a reasonable doubt”). The evidence the Police need must be sufficiently strong.

Police will often say to victims they should record any breaches if possible. This should only be done however when it is safe for you to do so. For information regarding your legal rights to make recording please refer to our article of the topic:

https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/recordings-as-evidence-in-courts-exercising-jurisdiction-under-family-law-act-1975-2/

The family report has significant weight in parenting proceedings and to assist with parenting arrangements post separation. It is often very helpful to have a family report prepared prior to mediation or family dispute resolution to assist separated parents. It is important to understand what the report entails, who writes it, and how it affects custody arrangements. 

Who writes it?

The court appoints a specialist family report writer to write the family report. The family report writer is an independent expert and can be appointed privately by the parties or as Court appointed “family consultant”. Strictly speaking the report writer has the status of being a Court Expert (Federal Circuit Court Rules) or Single Expert witness (Family Court Rules). This means the family report writer is not a witness for either party and may be cross examined by either party. The specialist normally has a background in psychology and/or social work.

How is the report written?

Once the court appoints the report writer or consultant they begin the interview and observation process. They will interview both parents and people close to the family and often observe the children in an informal interview, observe transition between adults, and see how they interact with the adults. The children have the option to speak with the family report writer or consultant but can choose not to.

What factors are considered?

In a custody matters, the aim is to ensure the best interests of children are met. Interviews with family members assist to determine issues in the custody matter that need to be addressed and provide recommendations as to the best interests of the children:

  • The nature of the existing parenting arrangements and important relationships in the lives of the children (parental and other)
  • Examination of allegations of unacceptable risk of harm (physical, psychological or sexual)
  • The responsibility parents have shown towards obligations as parents
  • The parent’s capacity to care for their children
  • The views of the children in the case

To keep in mind

It is important to make sure you attend the interview process. Failing to attend may cause delay, potentially cause costs against you, or that the family report is admitted into evidence without your input. Your divorce lawyer should provide you with date, time and other necessary information in advance. 

The report is only one piece of evidence in the case but the judge usually places a fair degree of weight on the opinion of the independent expert. The report writer or consultant makes recommendations about custody and access to children but the court isn’t obliged to follow them. If there’s an argument about the report, there’s an opportunity to cross-examine the consultant and the family members they interviewed.

Lastly, there’s no such a thing as off the record in a meeting with the report writer or consultant. They’re obliged to write a thorough report. Anything they’re told either goes in writing or sent to the court.

Family Consultant FAQs

What is a family report?

In 2006 the Howard Government made changes to the Family Law Act 1975. This made Family Dispute Resolution (generally mediation) compulsory in most parenting matters. An Accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner conducts the mediations. They have the authority to issue a certificate related to section 60I of the Act.

The Certificate (or final report) is like a piece of evidence for the Court. It includes whether the parties both attended mediation and made a genuine attempt to mediate or whether the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner determined mediation is inappropriate.

Child focused or child inclusive mediation are two mediation models made to help parents work out a suitable parenting arrangement after their separation. Below is basic information on these models, the mediation process and recording of agreements.

What’s child focused and child inclusive mediation?

Child focused mediation seeks to encourage the parties to look beyond their disputes and consider how the agreements benefit the children. Often the mediator will educate the parents to better understand how the dispute and separation negatively impacts their children, both in the long and short term. Hopefully this information will help the parents to look beyond their positions, personal
wants and needs and encourage them to focus on the children.

The child inclusive mediation takes this a step further by arranging for the children to have an interview with a qualified child consultant. They speak with the children in a separate session, and will relay the children’s thoughts and feelings to the mediator and the parents. The child consultant carefully considers what information to report; their priority is the child’s welfare in the separation.

Child focused mediation resulted in greater fulfilment with the mediation process and longer lasting agreements. Child inclusive mediation, though, provided even better results than child focused mediation in these areas. (McIntosh, Wells et al, 2008:46McIntosh 2007:4)

Screening process

In this initial process, each parent meets with the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner mediator. They screen for factors that may make mediation inappropriate. These factors include family violence, substance abuse, mental health and other imbalances affecting a party’s ability to participate in mediation.

On occasion the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner will need to “balance power”. It’s not unheard of for both sides to try and “tip” the balance in mediations to their advantage. Therefore, the screening is vital to determine the needs of the parties and if mediation is a realistic route to take.

Facilitative mediation

The Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner’s role is to assist the parties to determine the outcome for the dispute themselves. It isn’t the role of the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner mediator to advise or influence a party.

Generally, the Family Dispute Resolution process will require these steps:

  1. Mediator opens the proceedings and explains the rules;
  2. Receive opening statements from the parties. Both sides should speak uninterrupted;
  3. The mediator acknowledges and identifies common ground; An agenda is set in terms of the topics that need discussing;
  4. Both sides engage to explore the topics in the agenda;
  5. The mediator identifies options and obstacles;
  6. The mediator holds confidential private sessions with each party to discuss the viability of the options covered in the meetings;
  7. Negotiation between the parties;
  8. If an agreement is reached, it’s put on record.

Parenting Plans

Parenting Plans are methods of recording the agreements. These are written, signed and dated. These plans aren’t enforceable in a Court. But if the matter makes it that far, the Parenting Plan is evidence that an agreement exists, and is usually persuasive with the Court’s final decision.

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.