The high cost of divorce: Family Court’s filing fees to rise on 1 July 2015

Elephant in the room
 

In a controversial decision, the Abbott Government has, as part of the 2015 Budget, increased filing fees in the High Court, the Federal Court, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.

 

What does this mean if you are considering divorce?

From 1 July 2015, the fee for filling an application for divorce will increase by $350, from $845 to $1,195.

The filing fees for consent orders (such as in child custody and property settlement matters) will also increase from 1 July (from $155 to $235).

 

What has been the reaction of the legal community to the decision to increase fees?

The decision to increase federal-level-court filing fees has been widely criticised by the legal community, because it places yet another burden on separating families. Potentially, it will affect a lot of people, especially when you consider that, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, around 40% of marriages in this country end in divorce.

The president of the Law Council of Australia, Duncan McConnel, has said that the fee increases were both unwarranted and unfair, especially since federal court fees were tripled only two years ago.

To make matters worse, the fee changes to the federal-level courts are expected to raise $87.4 million but only $24 million will be reinvested in the justice system. This is disappointing development at a time when the Family Court finds itself particularly underfunded. Prominent barrister Grahame Richardson SC, in his speech on behalf of New South Wales barristers at the swearing in of former attorney-general Robert McClelland as a Family Court judge earlier this month, described Justice McClelland as a ‘brave man’ for taking on the appointment because the court is ‘chronically under resourced’.

At Monardo Solicitors, like the Law Council of Australia and many of our fellow family law practitioners, we are very disappointed by the Abbott Government’s decision to increase filing fees in the Family Court, especially since it disadvantages people who are facing already turmoil and uncertainty in their personal lives.

At the same time, even though we believe the decision is misguided, we realise that the bulk of the financial cost for the vast majority of separating families doesn’t lie in court filing fees (no matter how exorbitant).

 

Where does most of the financial burden in divorce proceedings lie?

Even if the legal community doesn’t want to talk about it, and it is something of an elephant in the room in the debate over the recent rise court fees, family lawyers are aware that the bulk of the cost for divorcing couples doesn’t come from filing fees. Rather, it comes from the fees that divorcing couples end up paying their lawyers to negotiate property settlements and child custody arrangements.

 

How can we help you reduce the cost of your divorce?

At Monardo Solicitors, we are very aware that if you are going through a marriage breakdown, the emotional and psychological impact on you may be considerable. We always try to support our clients, because we see it as part of our job. However, we may recommend you talk to someone, such as a counsellor or psychologist, who has the professional skills to give you the assistance you need.

One practical way we can help you get through this challenging time in your life is to assist in minimising the financial cost associated with going through a marriage breakdown.

How do we do this?

We try to run family law matters in a way that keeps our fees to a minimum.

What does this involve?

1. We minimise our overheads, so you don’t end up paying for all those fancy extras you see in a lot of law firms, which do nothing to enable their lawyers to provide you with a better service.
2. We have introduced online forms on this website for divorce, child custody and property settlement, which enable you to save costs by giving us the basic information we need in order to start working on your matter.
3. We run our matters in a streamlined way, and ensure that work is delegated to the staff member (either a lawyer or a paralegal) with the appropriate experience for the particular task that needs to be undertaken.
4. We take the time to talk to you to make sure we obtain a detailed understanding of your situation as well as your objectives.
5. We approach all negotiations with your spouse with your objectives in mind and try to work as collaboratively as possible with the lawyer acting for him or her. At the same time, we can, if necessary, transform into tough negotiators or litigators.

We will also encourage you to adopt some basic strategies that will help keep your legal costs down.

 

What are some strategies you can use to keep your legal costs down?

 

Strategy No 1: Keep your emotions out of negotiations with your spouse

We encourage you to keep your emotions out of any negotiations over your marriage breakdown (especially in relation to child custody issues and your property settlement).

Why?

It doesn’t assist the negotiation process, and can add to your legal costs because it generates extra work for your lawyer. The harsh reality is that you will have to pay for the extra work involved.

 

Strategy No. 2: If you need help to get through this very difficult time in your life, talk to a counsellor or a psychologist

We understand that you are probably feeling angry, and even bitter, about your marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help to move things forward, and can even delay you reaching an agreement with your spouse over issues such as property and child custody. We suggest that if you have psychological or emotional problems as a result of your separation (which is very common and perfectly understandable), you discuss this in detail with a counsellor, or other appropriately qualified professional, rather than with your lawyer.

When working with your lawyer, you need to remember that, although they are probably working in family law, rather than corporate law, because they are a compassionate person, they are probably also not a trained counsellor or psychologist. As a result, when collaborating with your solicitor, you should concentrate on getting the best possible result under the circumstances, especially for the sake of your children.

 

Strategy No. 3: Be organised

We also encourage our clients to be organised regarding the paperwork relating to their matter. The less administrative work you hand us, the more you will save on legal fees. We run a tight ship at Monardo Solicitors, and don’t have a large team of administrative or support staff. Instead, we focus on hiring the best lawyers we can find and creating an environment where they can focus on looking after their clients. We don’t believe it is their job to chase or sort pieces of paper, especially when you can save money by doing it yourself.

In short, you can reduce your legal fees by:

  • providing us with photocopies of any relevant documents
  • collating any relevant documents in a clear and coherent way
  • preparing a chronology of events (if necessary)
  • if there are a large number of documents, tagging important ones you think you should draw our attention to with a Post-it note, or something similar.

If you are seeking a property settlement, you could, if you have the skills, create a spreadsheet that will quickly enable us to get a clear picture of your and your spouse’s financial position.

At the same time, it is important to understand that if you want us to handle the administrative side of your matter, we have some very competent paralegals who can do those tasks for you. However, you need to be aware that you will pay for that work.

To summarise, if you try to approach the legal side of your marriage breakdown by keeping your emotions out of the negotiations regarding your separation, property settlement and child custody issues, as well as being organised with your documents, you will save a lot of money in legal fees. This is because you doing so enables us to concentrate on the legal issues in your case, and helps you emerge from your marriage breakdown in the best shape possible (both financially and emotionally).

Are you going through a marriage breakdown? Are you considering filing for divorce? Would you like to talk to an experienced family lawyer about your situation? Please call Vince Monardo on 1300 529 029 or 0415 286 116 to make an appointment to discuss your family law matter.

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