COURT OUT: With the average two-day Family Court trial costing couples about $25,000 a day, it makes sense to steer clear of this legal institution if you can at all help it. Source: The Sunday Mail (Qld)
AUSTRALIANS are digging deeper for divorce with 65 per cent of couples – up from 40 per cent just a few years ago – paying at least $60,000 to settle their financial disputes by Family Court trial.
And the evidence is clear: It pays to settle your property dispute out of the Family Court.
“You really have to beware of going to court. That is a very expensive option,” solicitor Kerry Townsend said.
“I tell people who ask me how to go about dividing up their assets and liabilities that there are a range of options starting at 50/50 but if you end up in court the split will most likely end up approximately 30/30/30. That’s 30 per cent for the lawyers.”
When lawyers are involved expect to pay between $350 and $1000 (per hour), he said.
“If you can’t keep your divorce or separation out of court, expect to pay a minimum of $5000 if you need a lawyer,” Mr Townsend said.
The cost of the average two-day Family Court trial is about $25,000 per couple per day, depending on the price of the barrister, who is mandatory if you go to trial.
That doesn’t include all the legal costs leading up to the final hearing, such as the usual series of court appearances leading to trial, mediation costs and all the legal advice and paperwork such as preparing affidavits, which alone can cost up to $20,000.
And people can’t expect to offload their legal costs on their ex-partner.
“Only in exceptional circumstances does the court decide that one party’s costs should be paid by the other,” Mr Townsend said.
To avoid the big legal fees, Mr Townsend advised separated couples to seek a mediated settlement, which is still legally binding.
If you can mediate an agreement, with the help of lawyers if necessary, you need not pay a fortune to escape your relationship with some financial certainty.
Even if there are family violence issues – and many couples who split have a legal order barring contact from their ex-partner – you can still get a court-sanctioned financial settlement for very little cash up-front, Mr Townsend said.
Property settlement lawyers’ fees average about $700 an hour compared to a mediated settlement that can cost $243 for the family court filing fee or just $60 for people with a health care or student card.
“These are still difficult things for most people to tackle but you can do it, with or without lawyers, depending on the couple,” Mr Townsend said.
“The best place to start is Relationships Australia, which can help couples with property settlements. The first stop is mediation. That is where the court will send you first anyway.
“The registrar who conducts the court’s mediation conference has the power to make an agreement sanctioned by the court there and then. That is the most common option most couples take up. Going to court means losing out again.”
He said 56 per cent of the orders made by the Family Court in 2009/2010 were “consent orders”, whereby both parties reached agreement out of court.
The court deals with 93 per cent of all consent order applications in under six months while matters that are complicated or contested can take years.