The below media release is from July 2015 has been provided by Rebecca Dahl, Nicholes Family Lawyers.
Recent Issues Surrounding Court Fees in Family Law matters
There has been much comment and debate in recent weeks regarding the increase in fees payable upon filing family law documents in the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
In June 2015, significant increases were announced, and due to commence on 1 July 2015. The proposed fee rises would see, for example, an increase of $350 payable upon the filing of an Application for Divorce.
It was widely reported that the Government sought to raise $87.4 million from the increases, with only $24 million of the expected revenue to be returned to the Courts.
These proposed fee increases were met with strong opposition from members of the legal profession, and the Law Council of Australia. Practitioners who practise in this area are acutely aware of the financial strain many families face as a result of the separation process. Practitioners were concerned that vulnerable families were to be further exposed financially by the increase in fees, including those who are victims of family violence.
Amongst other proposed fee hikes, there was to be an increase in the fee incurred for filing an Application for Consent Orders meaning that those parties who were able to resolve their matters by agreement, and were not even involved in litigation would still be hit by significant fees, simply to ensure their legal protection moving forward. Practitioners were concerned that this may lead to people choosing not to formalise their agreements, potentially leading to significant legal fees and other potentially harmful financial consequences being incurred in the future, if parties reneged on what had been agreed, and these informal settlements were forced to litigation despite the parties’ intention to resolve matters amicably, and without intervention of the Court.
On 25 June 2015, the Senate voted in favour of a motion to disallow the proposed amending regulations, and consequently there were not to be any family law fee increases on 1 July 2015. Unfortunately, on 13 July 2015, this decision was overruled and a new increased regime of fees was introduced.
The Labor party has now brought proceedings against Attorney-General George Brandis in an attempt to wind back the fee increase. The Federal Court determined this week that the matter did not involve a “sufficient degree of urgency” to deny the Government’s legal team their requested additional time to prepare. These proceedings continue and the matter has been adjourned to a date to be fixed next week.
Those who practise in the Family Law jurisdiction will be watching the progress of these proceedings with interest, and are hopeful for a result which guarantees separating families proper access to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, not hampered by financial constraints.