Vaccination for Covid 19 is one of the most divisive issues currently facing Australian society and in many other countries around the globe.

It is difficult to recall any issue that has been so characterised by divergent opinion, censorship, extraordinary new Government powers, authoritarian policing and uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of the vaccinations.

The most controversial proposed recipients for the vaccines are children, especially given that it has been widely reported the risk to children from Covid 19 is less than the seasonal flu.

In these circumstances it is unsurprising that parents may have a different view on what is best for their child in terms of risk of Covid 19, risk from vaccination, and the ability to access services stemming from Government mandates restricting the freedoms of the unvaccinated.

Equal shared parental responsibility

The decision on whether to vaccinate a child is a medical decision and a major long-term issue as defined in section 4 Family Law Act 1975 (“the Act”).

As such where a Court has made an order allocating equal shared parental responsibility parents have obligation created by the Act in section 65DAC to consult with each other regarding the decision, make a genuine effort to reach a joint decision and that the decision be made jointly.

Where parents can’t reach a joint decision, the Court can make in order with the best interests of the child being the paramount consideration for the Judge in determining what order to make.

Orders for the welfare of children

Section 67ZC of the Act also confers power on the Court to make orders for the welfare of children. The power to make welfare orders is also subject to the Court having regard to the best interests of the child as paramount in making such an order.

In the medical context, the section was examined in Secretary, Department of Human Services v JWB and SMB (1992) 175 CLR 218 (Marion’s Case). The medical issue was whether the parents ought to be permitted to sterilise their intellectually disabled, 14-year-old daughter. The parent’s concerns related to her capacity to cope with issues surrounding menstruation and potential pregnancy.

The primary issue for the Court was whether the parents had authority to make this decision or whether Court authorisation was required. The court determined that some medical procedures required more than authority from the parents, and that Court approval would be necessary.

The decision to vaccinate is not one that falls within the category or non-therapeutic medical decisions requiring court approval and thus it is for the parents to reach agreement with respect to vaccination if they wish to avoid Court intervention.

Family law vaccination cases

There are numerous cases with respect to traditional vaccines that have been determined under the Act. These cases have been determined in accordance with best interest principles on the on the basis of expert evidence with respect to the particular vaccine as would be typically expected.

Some examples of these cases are:

  • Mains & Redden [2011] FamCAFC 184 the trial judge ordered immunization for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and a host of other diseases determining it was in the child’s best interests. The mother appealed and sought to adduce new evidence that the child would suffer adverse reaction because she had suffered adverse reactions to immunization as a child. The mother asserted she was not anti vaccine. On appeal, the Court found it was open to the judge on the expert evidence before him to make the decision that he did and that the reaction risk was remote on the evidence.
  • Howell & Howell [2012] FamCA 903 In this case the husband’s religion required strict vegetarianism including anti vaccination because the process contained animal products. The parents had agreed the child would not be vaccinated and, lodged the necessary conscientious objection forms. The Court ordered the wife would be responsible for medical decisions including vaccination because it was in the best interests of the child.
  • Kingsford & Kingsford [2012] FamCA 889 in this case the father took the child for vaccinations without the mother’s knowledge or consent. The mother sought orders stop further vaccination without her express permission (she wanted homeopathic immunization procedures instead of traditional medicine). Expert evidence before the Court showed the benefits of vaccination outweighed the risks. The judge was critical of the father vaccinating the children in secret and without consent but made detailed orders for vaccination.
  • Gerber & Beck [2020]FamCA 210 In this case the father raised a concern that the maternal grandmother was a anti vaccination activist who believed vaccinations were a ploy of the pharmaceutical industry. The mother said she would have the children vaccinated but she admitted she has previously made false vaccination certificates and she admitted her mother had sourced the doctor who assisted in falsifying the certificates. This evidence supported denying the mother permission to relocate the children’s residence to an overseas country.
  • Pieper & Jesberg & Ors [2020] FamCA 989 here the court found the father’s beliefs were “highly conspiratorial” and “whacky”. The beliefs included the earth is flat, the government conceals that we live on a flat earth, the 9/11 attacks were plotted by the US government to create Islamic terrorist concerns and that the moon landing was fake. At the final hearing, the father denied being opposed to all vaccinations and said that his comments related only to the vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

Covid 19 vaccinations are new and thus at the moment there are only a handful of cases that have been determined, but this may soon change as more cases make it through the Court system in the Covid 19 list (discussed below).

One of the recent cases is Covington and Covington [2021] FamCAFC 52. In this case the mother initially consented to orders for a child aged 11 years to be vaccinated. Subsequently the mother appealed and withdrew her consent.

One of the orders she sought on appeal was a stay of the appeal pending the High Court determining an Application she brought pursuant to section 51xxiiiA of the Commonwealth Constitution. This constitutional provision provides the Commonwealth has power to make laws with respect to:

          “…the provision of maternity allowances, widow’s pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental service (but not so as to authorise any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances.”

The mother’s argument was that this provision conferred constitutional freedom from compulsory vaccination. The Court opined there was no authority for this interpretation and that it had little prospects for success. The Court referred to the decision of General Practitioners Society v The Commonwealth [1980] HCA 30 where it was held the phrase “civil conscription” applied to medical and dental services and “refers to any sort of compulsion to engage in practice as a doctor or a dentist or to perform medical or dental services.” The term seems to relate to compulsory service similarly to the military context of the word “conscription”.

In any event the mother’s application for special leave to the High Court failed.

The Covid 19 List

The Covid 19 List has been set up to deal urgently with disputes that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.

To be eligible to file the following criteria must be satisfied:

  1. The application must be as a direct result of or has a significant connection to the pandemic.
  2. The matter is urgent or of a priority nature.
  3. Accompanied by an Affidavit following a particular template.
  4. Subject to safety issue, attempts have been made to resolve the matter.
  5. The matter is suitable to be dealt wit via telephone or video link.

The types of matters this may cover include border difficulties, Covid related family violence, financial hardship from Covid for maintenance applications etc and vaccination. There are a list of rules that apply to the form of affidavit in support and it’s length, specific evidence that must be submitted relating to the urgency etc.

Where the Covid list applies the first Court date will likely be within 3 business days of filing if urgent and within 7 days if priority.

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

The Federal Circuit of Australia and Family Court of Australia have merged utilising one common set of Rules from 1 September 2021. The new Court has imaginatively been renamed as The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”) while the full title of the Rules is The Federal Circuit and Family Court Rules 2021 (“the Rules”).

As of 1 September 2021, practitioners and litigants coming before the Court are to be expected to follow the new Rules and procedures with a 6-month grace period during the transition. Further to the new Rules are a series of Practice Directions for guidance as to how the Rules will be implemented.

Central to these Practice Directions is the Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management (“CPD”) setting our principles and procedures when coming before the Court. The Central Practice Direction states that all other Practice Directions are to be read within its framework.

Purpose

The purpose is expressed to establish a consistent national framework to achieve:

  1. Reduce unnecessary cost, delay and conflict.
  2. Ensure the safety of families.
  3. Facilitate the just resolution of disputes according to law, quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.

A copy of the CPD must be provided to clients and self-represented litigants at the commencement of a proceeding and contains strong statements as to the necessity to comply in all matters. Further, there are prohibitions on making ambit claims, being unnecessarily aggressive and filing unnecessary voluminous material (regardless of complexity).

Penalties for noncompliance include an adverse costs order to both practitioners and non-complying litigants.

Application of the Practice Direction

The CPD applies to all family law applications except for appeals, divorce proceedings and consent orders however the core principles of the practice direction do apply across the board.

Core Principles of the new Family Law system

There are 10 “core principles” to be underpinning the new procedures. These are:

  1. Risk – addressing risk that may be present for vulnerable parties such as children and litigants from allegations including family violence.
  2. Parties, Lawyers and Court overarching purpose is to resolve disputes according to law and as quickly and in expensively as possible.
  3. Efficient use of resources – identifying the issues and allocating resources accordingly.
  4. Case management approach – will include a consistent approach, triaging of matters towards appropriate case pathway – again early issue identification, prioritising early mediation and Family Dispute Resolution (“FDR”).
  5. Importance for dispute resolution – Subject to safety, before commencing proceedings parties will have been expected to explore mediation and FDR. This includes following the section 60I Family Law Act 1975 FDR requirement.
  6. Noncompliance – There will be serious consequences of noncompliance including costs against parties and lawyers.
  7. Lawyers’ obligations about costs – refers to ensuring that costs are necessarily incurred and proportional to the issues in the case. Lawyers must keep client updated as to the situation regarding the actual costs incurred.
  8. Identify and narrow issues – By making disclosure, ensuring applications are justified, trying to negotiate certain issues, engaging a single expert to resolve an issue etc.
  9. Preparation for hearings – Lawyers must be ready and fully prepared for Court events.
  10. Efficient and timely disposal of cases – faster court dates and delivery of judgements.

Case Management

Case management procedures have been set up to facilitate the above principles being achieved.

Pre-action Family Law procedures

There are several requirements placed on a party prior to commencing proceedings. These are:

  1. Comply with schedule 1 of the Rules 2021 which sets out pre action procedures for property and parenting matters (set out in a separate blog) and comply with section 60I.
  2. Take genuine steps to resolve the matter prior to commencing proceedings (subject to risk considerations) and file a “Genuine Steps Certificate”.
  3. Unless the matter is urgent – Notice is to be given to the potential respondent prior to filing setting out the claim.

Failure to comply may result in the application being adjourned or stayed.

Filing and Service of Court Applications

Initiating Application must be served as soon as is reasonably practicable after filing.

Urgent Family Law Applications

A litigant must apply for an urgent interim hearing which will be assessed by a Judicial Registrar. If accepted as urgent it will be granted the earlies available hearing date. If appropriate there will be a referral to FDR after the urgent hearing.

Triage and assessment

A case may be referred to the National Assessment Team at any time for consideration of:

  1. Whether the matter needs to go to Division 1 of the court – such as for a specialist court list such as the Magellan list or complex property list.
  2. The suitability for the matter to be included in a specialist list.
  3. Whether pre action compliance has been made.
  4. Whether section 60I FDR regime has been complied with.

Allocation between Divisions of the new Family Law Court.

The Court operates with two Divisions being what was the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court. The appropriate Division will depend on:

  1. As part of triage and assessment whether the case is a specialist matter for immediate transfer to Division 1.
  2. Compliance and readiness hearing where the appropriate Division will be determined to conduct the final hearing.
  3. At any appropriate time to consider transfer.

Determination of the appropriate Division for hearing will be at the Court’s discretion having regard to:

  1. The Rules and Family Law Act 1975.
  2. The National Assessment Team’s assessment.
  3. Party’s submissions.

The factors to determine the appropriate Division are:

  1. Complexity of factual, legal, or jurisdictional issues.
  2. International issues.
  3. Multiple parties.
  4. Multiple expert witnesses being necessary.
  5. Questions of importance to the development of family law jurisprudence.
  6. Length of the case.
  7. Division 1 and 2 workload – delay.
  8. Impact of litigants.
  9. Any allegations of criminal misconduct.
  10. Complexity in financial matters.

Court Events

While the Court will retain a discretion to be flexible in terms of case management to assist parties in the most efficient and effective way, the following will be the typical pathway to be followed in Court matters:

First Family Law Court event

The first Court event will be before a Judicial Registrar for Directions and aim to be listed for 1 to 2 months after the date of filing.

Before the first Court event the following is expected to occur:

  1. All documents to be served in accordance with the Rules.
  2. Lawyers must provide to the Court and each party a Notice:
    1. Confirming the client has made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute or issues subject to an exemption applying.
    2. Advising whether there is Legal Aid funding and setting out total costs and disbursements to date – estimate of costs for each stage.
    3. Estimate of the likely duration and costs of the final hearing.
  3. If a party has not filed a Financial Statement as part of the proceeding, they must advise whether they are in receipt of Legal Aid and if not set out their expenses and income regarding their ability to fund or contribute to the costs of an expert report. This does not apply where the parties have agreed to privately fund a report.

The purpose of the first Court date is:

  1. Make any directions or orders by consent.
  2. Determine whether the pre action procedures have been complied with.
  3. Identify the issues in the case and how to resolve them.
  4. Is an interim hearing required?
  5. Determine whether Court based, or external FDR is required.
  6. Is individual case management required?
  7. Consider urgency or special circumstances that require the matter to be transferred to a judge.
  8. Directions for the preparation of expert reports, issuing subpoenas and future progression.

For parenting cases it will also be considered:

  1. Whether an independent children’s lawyer is required.
  2. Whether a written or oral report from a family consultant, social scientist etc may promote resolution.

For financial cases it will also be considered:

  1. Timetable for exchange of disclosure documents.
  2. Any single expert reports that are necessary.
  3. Suitability for Arbitration.

In typical matters orders ought to be made for FDR and preparation including identify issues in dispute and considering the evidence necessary with respect to those issues.

Interim Hearing

In non-urgent cases any Interim Application in the Initiating Application or Response will be listed for hearing before a Senior Judicial Registrar or Judge after the first Court event.

This would normally occur before FDR and after any subpoenas or expert evidence relevant has been obtained, provided this wouldn’t cause undue delay.

No less than 2 business days before the Interim Hearing the parties must forward to the Associate of the relevant Judge or Senior Judicial Registrar:

  1. Minute of Order sought.
  2. Case Outline – setting out the major contentions and issues.
  3. List of the documents to be read at the interim hearing.

Lawyers will be expected to be ready to proceed on the day.

Subsequent Interlocutory Applications

After proceedings have commenced, a party should not file an Application in a Proceeding unless Rule 4.03 has been complied with – to make a genuine and reasonable attempt to resolve the dispute.

Each party can file a maximum of 2 Application in a proceeding without leave and Chapter 5 contains requirements for Affidavits.

Family Law Mediation

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, parties must attend FDR within 5 months of the commencement of proceedings. FDR may not be appropriate in circumstances of violence.

Having regard to the means of the parties FDR may be Private mediation, Legal Aid Conference, Conciliation Conference, Judicial Settlement Conference or section 13C(1)(b) Family Law Act 1975 FDR conference.

Private Mediation and external Family Dispute Resolution

If attending mediation, the parties must provide the following within 7 days of attending:

  1. Copies of the relevant Court documents filed in the proceeding.
  2. Expert reports.
  3. Relevant disclosure documents to a particular issue.
  4. Minute of Order sought.
  5. Case Outline in the approved form.
  6. In financial cases – particulars of a financial resource, valuations or appraisals, superannuation valuation, procedural fairness to any super fund trustee.
  7. Any current or previous family violence orders.
  8. Certificate of Dispute Resolution for completion by mediator.

In addition, lawyers must:

  1. Ensure documents are disclosed in accordance with Chapter 6 of the Rules.
  2. Comply with reasonable requests of the mediator.
  3. Attend FDR and make a genuine attempt to settle.

Before FDR lawyers must also provide notice of costs incurred to date and estimate of future costs to be incurred, estimate of duration of the final hearing and costs.

Costs penalties can be imposed if any unmeritorious claim is pressed at mediation.

Court based dispute resolution

For any Conciliation Conference or Court based FDR etc, at least 14 days prior the parties must:

  1. Disclosure in accordance with Chapter 6 has been made.
  2. Any expert reports have been filed.
  3. Provide to the Court and each party a bundle of the following documents:
    1. Case outline in the approved form.
    2. Minute of Order sought.
    3. Disclosure documents relevant to a particular issue.
    4. In financial cases – particulars of a financial resource, valuations or appraisals, superannuation valuation, procedural fairness to any super fund trustee
  4. Costs advice as for private FDR above.

The Judicial Registrar at the FDR may assess compliance and make costs orders and may further:

  1. List the matter in an appropriate list including before a Judge for directions or consideration of dismissal.
  2. Direct the parties to explain the lack of compliance.

If the FDR proceeds but can be resolved by negotiation the Judicial Registrar shall prepare for the parties and Court file a Certificate of Dispute Resolution stating:

  1. Whether the parties attended.
  2. Any significant issues in dispute.
  3. Compliance with costs notification.
  4. Compliance with the Rules.

Further directions can be made including listing the matter for a Compliance and Readiness Hearing.

Fast Track Hearing List

After FDR the Court may list the matter for a fast-track hearing where:

  1. The parties made a genuine effort but couldn’t resolve the issues.
  2. Issues are clearly identified and limited in scope.
  3. Expert reports have been obtained.
  4. The parties agree that the matter can be resolved on affidavit without cross examination and on the basis of written submission of no more than 10 pages.
  5. The parties are in a position to present their case with 28 days’ notice of the hearing date.
  6. The party’s consent to a short form judgement.

The Court may in the interests of achieving the purposes and principles can determine the proceeding or a discrete issue by way of fact track hearing.

Compliance and Readiness Hearing

For cases not “fast tracked” they will be given a date as close as possible to 6 months from the filing date for a Compliance and Readiness Hearing (CRH) before a Senior Judicial Registrar or Judge.

Prior to the CRH lawyers and parties will be expected to confer on producing a trial plan – witnesses and how long they will take to give evidence.

No later than 7 days prior to the CRH each party must file:

  1. Amended Application or Response setting out precise order sought.
  2. Undertaking as to disclosure in accordance with Rule 6.02.
  3. Certificate of Readiness certifying – compliance with orders and directions, valuations completed, confirm the matter is ready and if it is not then why not.
  4. Set out the duration of the hearing and costs information.

At the CRH the lawyers or parties must also be able to advise the Court of:

  1. The factual issues requiring determination.
  2. Legal and factual contentions in relation to each issue.
  3. Proposed witnesses and availability.
  4. Whether interpreters, video facilities etc are required.
  5. Length of hearing.
  6. Any other steps that are required.

Trial Management Hearing

The matter can be listed for a further management hearing before final hearing if necessary. This can be to consider costs of any non-compliance and make necessary directions.

Final Hearing, Unreached Matters and Judgment

The goal will be to achieve a final hearing within 12 months of the filing date.

If the matter cannot proceed on the listed trial date the parties can elect to attend FDR or it will be allocated to another Judge.

Judgement will be delivered as soon as is reasonably practicable or within 3 months of the final hearing.

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

 

 

 

 

 

The vast majority of Family Lawyers will do everything they can to keep their client’s out of Court and try to settle the cases they run amicably (if possible) and as early on as possible to reduce legal costs. 

A good lawyer achieves this through making sure their clients are well advised as to the range of potential outcomes, has identified issues that may affect the range of outcomes, has worked to resolve information disputes by obtaining valuations and disclosure and provided their client with as accurate as possible costs estimates. This information allows a client to make an informed assessment of risk and weigh the cost/benefit of settling early.

Early settlements are also achieved by maintaining a respectful and non-confrontational communication style with the lawyer representing the other party or self-represented litigant. Third parties such as mediators are also of enormous assistance in resolving disputes at the early stages.

However, despite the best efforts of lawyers and parties sometimes it is necessary to file a proceeding in Court in order to move it forward or resolve a dispute that is intractable. 

To be frank, in any civilised society there is only two options to resolve a dispute, and they are by an agreement reached between the parties or by a Court making an order. 

What does it mean to go to Court?

For Family Law disputes there are three Courts that most often exercise the jurisdiction conferred by the Family Law Act 1975. These are:

  • State Magistrates Court exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1975. It is not often that a Family Law proceeding would be filed in a State Magistrates Court. Typically, a State Magistrate Court would only be involved to make a “Consent Order” and not hear a disputed matter.
  • The Family Court which is the “higher Court” exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1975. The Family Court typically hears matters that are more complex such as complex property matters, matters where serious allegation of risk towards children are made and other particular matters such as adoption or disputed medical procedures for children.
  • The Federal Circuit Court is the “workhorse” Court in Family Law matters. This Court is likely where your matter will be commenced, and this Court handles the majority of the “usual” property and parenting disputes.

Many people think that once their matter “goes to Court” it will be heard by the Judge at the first date and resolved. This is not the case. Once a matter is filed in Court a process commences that may take many Court appearances before a resolution can occur.

Why are there numerous Court appearance before a Judge can make a decision?

This is necessary because the reality is matters in dispute are numerous, Judges are few and Court time is expensive for the taxpayer. 

Once a matter is started in Court by filing an Application, the basic process is for the Court to make directions for evidence to be gathered before a “hearing” can occur and for the parties to make further attempts at negotiation or mediation.

The Court process is formal and must be fair to both parties so there are rules that must apply to how the matter is conducted and how the Court receives evidence. Thus, Court appearances have different designations as to what is to occur on a particular day. Again, agreements between the parties are encouraged and almost any agreement can be made, and the matter finalised, regardless of what the purpose of the day is.

The types of Court days are:

  • Mention or Directions – A “mention” is a Court date when the Judge will be informed as to what the matter is about, what the issues are, and what “directions” may need to be made for the collection of evidence or further Court dates. The first date after the Application and Response is filed is usually a mention unless there is some urgency to making an “interim” decision. In the vast majority of cases interim orders for children and what needs to occur by way of directions will be negotiated and agreed at the first Court date. 
  • Interim Application – This is a Court date when the Court must make a decision on a particular issue before the main hearing. Interim hearings are a short process of up to 2 hours duration only. This would occur for example where the interim parenting orders could not be agreed or in a property matter where assets needed to be protected, a party wanted to exclude another party from living at the home or a party needed maintenance or access to some funds. An interim hearing is conducted by affidavits without cross examination and therefore the Court cannot determine any disputed facts. 
  • Callover – This is when the Court will allocate a trial date if the matter is ready to proceed. Trial time is valuable so before allocating this time to a matter the Judge will want to know how many witnesses, how long the matter might take, whether any issues have been resolved etc.
  • Trial – This is likely the last Court date. A trial is where the parties are cross examined on their affidavit, lawyers make submissions and the Judge will make “finding of fact”. This means that after hearing the evidence the Judge will determine what evidence is found to be true. The Judge will then apply the relevant law to those facts.

There are other Court dates that can occur such as “Conciliation Conference” which are similar to mediation or Appeals if a party believes a Judge made an error. 

The good news is that most matters don’t make it all the way to a trial. Most matters settle at some point along the way once the benefit of further evidence is obtained, the Judge may focus attention on a particular issue, costs increase and as other issues are resolved creating motivation for closure.

What should you do when you’re in Court?

The Judge sitting in Court represents the authority of the State to determine a dispute. 

The origin of which date back to the early Norman Kings in England (who had the “divine right of Kings” i.e. said to be appointed by God) and allowed subjects to come before the King to determine disputes. This had a stabilising influence on society by establishing a “rule of law”. I said earlier there are two ways to determine a dispute in a “civilised” society i.e. an agreement or an order from the Court. Without the Court there would be agreements …or whoever was able to use force to get what they want. 

Thus, the Courts are imperative to maintaining a civilised society and it is very important the authority of the Court is respected.

Respect for the Court today means that while you’re in Court:

  • Bow to the Judge if the Judge is sitting at the bench when you enter or leave the Court room.
  • Do not wear any hat or have sunglasses on your head. Dress appropriately. You don’t have to wear a suit or tie if you’re not a lawyer but dressing appropriately communicates to the Court you respect the process you’re involved in. 
  • If you are speaking to the Judge the proper address is “your Honour”.
  • Do not speak to the person next to you in the gallery unless it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes lawyers will whisper to each other with last minute negotiations before their matter is called but this ought to be avoided. The Judge is focused on the matter before them and typically they don’t appreciate being distracted. 
  • Often when you are in Court and supporting a friend, or if it is your matter, you will hear something you don’t like or don’t agree with. In this situation keep your poker face. Don’t smile, roll your eyes, stare at someone, shake your head etc. Don’t be argumentative or rude – especially with the Judge.
  • If you’re self-represented or addressed by the Judge directly focus on listening and not on speaking. It is natural that you’ll want to tell the Judge all of your concerns however this is rarely appropriate unless you’re making submissions at a trial or interim hearing. More often than not this goes badly for the person speaking. The Judge might want specific information so to give that information and don’t try to qualify it or give context. There will be time for that later. The same applies if you’re being cross examined. It’s an exercise in listening and not speaking. Cross examination is where the other party is scoring their points. Your points are in your affidavit so just answer the questions as honestly and succinctly as possible, and if you don’t understand ask the question be repeated and/or say if you don’t understand.

There are fewer physical appearances while Covid 19 is upon us but the same rules apply if you’re appearing by video or phone.

Going to Court is stressful, especially if you find yourself in a trial. It is also expensive and time consuming and it is much preferred that a negotiated settlement can be reached. Before deciding to go to Court you should have a good reason why. You should know what the impediment to settlement is, what will the costs be financially and emotionally, and you need to have confidence in your Family Lawyer providing the advice you are relying on to make these decisions.

Family law advice

If you have any queries in relation to separation, divorce, de facto relationships, property settlement or child support payments, my firm Hooper Mill Family Lawyers can assist you with practical advice. 

We are family lawyers servicing all areas in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

It’s not unusual in many areas of law to apply time limits to the performance of a task or making a claim. Typically, time limits are something that lawyers are very mindful of when first meeting with, and advising a client, because if time limits are missed, the family lawyer could potentially be liable if a client suffers loss.

Sometimes “timing” is important to a client as well. I have often been asked “should I wait to do my divorce before I finalise property settlement?” or with respect to relocating children “should I wait before going to Court”? These types of situations fall into the strategy of a case and there are many more examples where timing is important for a satisfactory outcome.

The following are some (not all) of the important references to time that occur when you’re involved in a Family Law matter.

Divorce

Since 1975 there has only been one ground for Divorce in Australia. That is “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”. This is evidenced by a 12-month continuous period of separation. However, to promote the opportunity for reconciliation, married couples can get back together for up to 3 months without “resetting the clock”.

For example, if I’m separated for 3 months and get back together for up to another 3 months and then separate again, the first 3 months is counted as part of the 12-month continuous period of separation. If I get back with my husband or wife for 4 months though, the 12 months would need to start again. 

Also, if I’m only married for 2 years there is an additional requirement for a “counselling certificate” and counselling before the Divorce can be filed. Again, this is designed to “give love a second chance” and see whether the marriage can be saved. 

Limitation periods for property claims

There are restrictions on when a claim for property settlement can be brought which are slightly different for married or de facto relationship couples. Lawyers call these time limits “Limitation Periods”.

The time limits are:

  • For married couples within 1 year of the date of a Divorce.
  • For de facto couples within 2 years of separation. 

For married couples the time limit will not commence until a Divorce occurs. Many people think of the Divorce as covering all of the property and children’s issues however this is not the case. 

A Divorce is only the termination of the marriage. People can resolve parenting issues and property settlement without ever being Divorced. Conversely, people can be Divorced and not resolve property issues.

There are some cases where people have waited long periods of time, haven’t been Divorced and seek property settlement (some more than 20 years after separation). This is not advisable as it introduces much complexity into the issues to be resolved. Without delving too far into issues of “contributions”, contributions have a different character post separation and long period of separate economic activity can be difficult to assess. In some cases, Courts have determined that after such a long period it may be no longer “just and equitable” to adjust property interests, which is a requirement of the power of the Court to Order a property settlement.

Most married people make the property settlement a priority before the Divorce and in my view this is sensible. There is no danger of the Limitation Period expiring and it makes the process simpler. In my experience complexity in legal matters typically means higher costs.

For de facto couples since 2009 (in most states) they enjoy the same processes as married couples, and the substantiative law is largely the same. However, not so regarding the Limitation Period. While married couple have 1 year it operates from the date they obtain a Divorce. De facto couples have 2 years but this time starts running from the date they separate.

In practical terms a looming Limitation Period means to protect it from expiring a Court Application must be made. Most people don’t want to go to Court and would prefer to negotiate a settlement so making sure there is sufficient time is important. Going to Court doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate a resolution, but it adds to stress and costs.

What if the Limitation Period does expire?

If the Limitation Period does expire it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t proceed with a claim. 

However before making the claim the other party would need to consent to it proceeding or permission of the Court (known as leave of the Court), would need to be obtained.

Leave of the Court will be granted if the Applicant can successfully establish “hardship” to a party or a child.

There are numerous cases with respect to hardship, some of the main points are as follows:

  • Hardship is akin to hardness, severity, privation, that which is hard to bear or a substantial detriment (Whitford [1979] FamCA 3).
  • Weight ought to be given to the intention of the limitation periods (Whitford [1979] FamCA 3).
  • Matters such as the length of the delay, reasons for the delay, prejudice to the respondent occasioned by the delay, the strength of the applicant’s case and the degree of hardship… are to be give weight. (Sharp [2011] FamCAF 150 citing Whitford).
  • The application ought to have a prima facie case worth pursuing not the mere loss of a cause of action. (Sharp [2011] FamCAF 150).
  • “Prejudice” to the respondent includes where a party is faced with a cause of action, he or she had no reason to expect or had been led to believe would not be brought.” (Frost & Nicholson [1981] FamCA 45).

If the other party requires the Applicant to obtain leave apart from the risk of the Court denying the Application, costs will be significantly increased.

The moral of the story is (in my opinion) there is no substitute for early advice from a specialist family lawyer for advice, including with respect to issues such as timing.

Other Family Law time considerations

Your family lawyer will be able to advise you with respect to timing issues from time under the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 or Family Law Rules 2004 to take certain steps, or the need to respond to a time limit imposed by a family law solicitor acting for your ex-partner. 

Being experienced lawyers, we know the tactical considerations that ought to be borne in mind. With parenting matters this can be critical to your case because a change in a child’s circumstances can be material to the outcome.

The bottom-line is don’t procrastinate, be proactive and find out where you stand early following separation.

Family law advice

If you have any queries in relation to separation, divorce, de facto relationships, property settlement or child support payments, my firm Hooper Mill Family Lawyers can assist you with practical advice. 

We are family lawyers servicing all areas in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

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 Mill 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 Mill Family Lawyers at Victoria Point on (07) 3207 7663; or Hooper Mill Family Lawyers Coolangatta on (07) 5599 3026.

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