FACTORS WHICH AFFECT LEGAL COSTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS
The factors which can affect legal costs in complex family law matters or cases involving court proceedings are many and varied.
Below we explain why certain factors lead to increased costs and what you can do to reduce legal costs in a family law matter.
It might seem obvious, but it’s still worth noting that where more than two people are involved in a family law dispute, the legal costs of everyone involved are increased. This is because more parties = more issues in dispute = more time spent resolving the dispute = more legal costs.
You cannot prevent a third party participating in your family law matter if they have a legal interest in the outcome. However, you can reduce the impact of third party participation by trying to reach agreement with the third party regarding their part of the dispute at the earliest opportunity.
You can also control the involvement of external parties, such as new partners, parents and siblings, who whilst well-meaning can sometimes inflame a dispute or become over-involved in the dispute for their own reasons. It is not in your best interests, to spend money on legal fees to fight someone else’s battle.
You cannot control what the other party does or how he/she behaves. But, you can control how you respond. Repeatedly reacting to provocative behaviour of another party can significantly increase legal costs in a family law matter. An experienced lawyer can advise you of the most effective way to deal with the other party, which will save you money. Sometimes, the best response is to not respond, if there is nothing to be gained in doing so.
Unfortunately, if the other party to your dispute engages a lawyer with an unnecessarily aggressive approach, or one who is unwilling or unable to provide the other party with impartial and realistic advice, this can delay the resolution of your case and increase your costs.
The best solution is to engage an experienced lawyer with a practical approach, who can respond assertively and advise the best strategies to reduce the impact of the other party’s unhelpful legal representative. In our experience, when dealing with a combative legal opponent maintaining a forthright, courteous approach and avoiding unnecessary and unproductive communication is the most effective way to contain legal costs in a family law matter.
In many cases parties’ legal costs end up much higher than they needed to be simply because their relationship is highly conflicted. Put bluntly, sometimes people who are involved in a dispute can’t agree about anything. This is not because they are intrinsically unreasonable, but because emotions are high and neither party is able to take a step back from the dispute. Unfortunately, this comes at a substantial cost to both parties.
Family law is by its nature highly charged. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the emotional and financial impact in a high conflict situation. Firstly, look after yourself. If you need professional assistance to manage your emotions and provide you with support while you resolve your dispute, do so. Secondly, engage an experienced, Family Law Accredited Specialist who will give you honest, accurate and pragmatic advice, so you can make sound decisions. Thirdly, heed the advice of your expert lawyer, so that emotion does not cloud your judgment. This will ensure that your dispute is resolved more quickly and less expensively.
The number of issues about which you and the other party disagree will undoubtedly affect how much it will cost you to resolve your dispute. More issues = Greater legal costs. It’s that simple.
The good news is that you have more control over this factor than many of the others. Here, the saying “pick your battles” is relevant. To keep your costs down, it is essential to keep the big picture firmly in mind. Focus on the outcome you seek to achieve and don’t be side tracked by disagreements which are of little or no relevance in the grand scheme of things. In most cases, there are usually only a few truly significant issues which need to be addressed for a dispute to be resolved. If you turn your attention to those issues, the total costs you incur to finalise your case will be significantly lower than if you argue every point along the way.
In most cases, disputes which are not resolved within a reasonable time after separation are more difficult and expensive to finalise. This is because during the intervening period, there can be many changes in circumstances, which will be relevant to the outcome each party is seeking. More information will need to be exchanged and more documents provided. Often third parties become involved in the affairs of the separated couple, which further complicates the situation.
Further, and most significantly, there are time limits for bringing court applications for property settlement and/or spouse maintenance. If these are not complied with you could lose your rights or make it far more difficult and expensive to pursue them.
Therefore, we recommend that parties endeavour to finalise their parenting and financial arrangements as soon as possible following a separation, where there is no possibility of reconciliation. This will help reduce the legal costs in your family law matter
In financial cases, your legal costs can increase significantly if you do not have accurate information about your finances or those of the other party. Your lawyer needs to receive accurate information in order to properly advise you about your entitlements and to ensure that any agreement reached can be documented.
You can reduce your legal costs in a family law matter by making your own enquiries and investigations regarding the joint finances and, in some circumstances, regarding the other party’s finances. Ask your lawyer to explain what information he/she requires and how you can obtain the information yourself. If you are able to spare the time to gather and collate the information your lawyer needs, you will save yourself the cost of having him/her do it for you.
Sometimes, during the course of a matter, a situation arises which was not anticipated at the outset. In these circumstances, it may be necessary for your lawyer to undertake additional work. If this occurs, you will incur extra legal costs.
If the change in circumstances is unforeseen, there is little either you or your lawyer can do to avoid the additional costs. However, you can minimise the chance of this occurring, by ensuring that you tell your lawyer everything which is relevant to your case at the outset so that he/she can assess what work will be required and accurately advise you how much it will cost.
If parties have complex financial arrangements involving companies, trusts or other entities, business interests and/or a self-managed superannuation fund, more work is required to finalise a settlement. It is vital that your lawyer has a full and detailed understanding of the financial arrangements, so that accurate advice is provided and so that settlement documents are properly drafted.
Nevertheless, there are still ways you can reduce your costs. Primarily, by gathering together and providing to your lawyer as much of the required information as possible and authorising third parties, such as your accountant, business partner or financial advisor to liaise with your lawyer so that he/she has a complete understanding of your finances.
In both parenting and financial cases, it can be necessary to obtain expert advice or opinion, before a settlement can be negotiated or for use in court proceedings. For example, in parenting cases it is common for parties or the court to seek a report from a family consultant in relation to the best interests of the children or evidence from a psychologist or psychiatrist. In financial cases, a valuer or forensic accountant might be required to give evidence.
Although the cost of expert advice might be unavoidable, you can limit the costs you pay your lawyer in relation to obtaining it by cooperating fully with the expert and providing all information and documents requested by the expert without delay.
If court proceedings are commenced, you will almost certainly incur substantial legal costs in a family law matter, which are well above the costs you might expect to pay if your case is settled out of court.
For this reason, we recommend that unless it would be inappropriate or there are exceptional circumstances or urgency, every attempt should be made to resolve your family law matter without going to court. In parenting cases there is a requirement that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, a court application cannot be filed until parties have attempted to resolve their dispute through family dispute resolution. Other methods for resolving family law disputes are negotiations between the parties and/or their lawyers, round table conferencing, mediation and arbitration. An experienced family lawyer will advise you of the best options for resolving your case out of court and will only suggest court proceedings as a last resort.
When court proceedings are necessary, there are a number of additional factors which will affect the total legal costs you pay, such as:
- the court where the proceedings are being conducted and the procedures adopted by that court (for information about the courts which deal with family law cases click here)
- the number of court appearances required
- the number, availability and location of witnesses
- whether any expert witnesses are required to give evidence
- the length of the final hearing (trial)
- how long it takes the Judge to make a decision and hand down a judgment.
For additional information about managing legal costs in family law matters click here.