Do family lawyers have special qualifications?No, family lawyers are lawyers who work in family law. There are firms or individuals who deal solely with family law and those who specialise in family law and other areas of law. Neither is necessarily better, as knowledge and experience in other areas of law can contribute to family law.
How to choose family lawyers?Like with everything, the best way is to find a family lawyer through recommendations from people you trust. You may have a few options, so do not be afraid to meet or discuss your matter with different family lawyers before you decide.
It is important that you feel you can trust your family lawyer, that you feel you can work with them well and of course that their legal fees are reasonable.
If you engaged a family lawyer and later feel you made the wrong decision, you can always change family lawyers, just try to make the decision as early as possible before much damage is done.
How much do family lawyers cost?As family law proceeding in Court are very expensive, it is important to know what your family lawyers’ fees are. These legal costs vary from one family lawyer to another. In matters of litigation (which end up in Court), family lawyers’ fees are charged by hourly rate, in 6 minutes increments. Hourly rates can vary considerably, from as low as $300 + GST an hour to $600 + GST an hour (and sometimes even more). It also depends whether there is more than one family lawyer from a firm working on your matter, which could mean higher charges.
In matters which are resolved by financial agreement without the need to go to Court, the legal fees are significantly lower, and some family lawyers may charge a fixed price rather than an hourly rate.
Can family lawyers represent both parties?No, family lawyers cannot act for both parties. Clearly, if the dispute reaches Court, each party would want their family lawyer to pursue their own best interests, but also outside Court, where parties have an agreement about their property settlement and want to make it formal by way of financial agreement, they still cannot have the same family lawyer act for both of them.
The idea behind the requirement for separate representation is that each party’s circumstances are different and that they need to be aware of their rights and obligations independently of any pressure or influence from the other party.
For that reason, one of the conditions for a financial agreement to be binding, is for each party to received independent legal advice from a lawyer.
What to ask family lawyers at the first meeting?You can read our Checklist editorial for more details. The information a family lawyer would require is generally the same information we ask you to provide in My Fair Share® questionnaire to enable our Property Settlement Calculator to generate the best result we can.
Your family lawyer may ask you for some further information, but at the end of the meeting, you should be able to walk away understanding the options you have available to pursue your rights, the likely range of possible results applicable to you and knowledge of the costs involved at least by way of rough estimate.
Can family lawyers subpoena documents from the other party?A major principle in family law property settlements is proper financial disclosure. The parties have an obligation to provide full and frank disclosure of their financial position.
A subpoena is an order of the Court made on the application of a party to a proceeding. Therefore, family lawyers can apply for subpoenas but only once the matter is in Court. A subpoena can be directed to any legal entity and could be for provision of documents or evidence or both.
Regardless of any subpoenas, parties have the obligation to provide discovery of all relevant financial information, so many times a subpoena is not required, and correspondence between the lawyers is enough.
In Court cases where certain documents are not provided by a party or are not in their possession, subpoenas can be issued, but only with respect to documents which are relevant to the proceeding. Your family lawyer can subpoena bank statement or other financial information, but a subpoena should not be used to provide documents which are pursued for ulterior motives such as revealing the other party’s personal life. Therefore, your family lawyer cannot subpoena text messages or subpoena phone records, just because one party wants to know about the other party’s personal life – the Court would not allow it.
The Court may allow to subpoena certain phone records or text messages if they are relevant to issues in dispute in the proceeding which may assist the Court in its determination.
Can you do property settlement yourself?As explained above, and in detail in our editorial about financial statements, there are only two ways for a property settlement to be enforceable, either through orders of the Court or by way of financial agreement.
Therefore, any property settlement between parties not by one of the two ways above, even if written and signed between them, is not recognised by law as being enforceable and will not prevent either party from going to Court and seeking different orders.