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Relationship and family lawyers to help you cope now

When you are looking to choose a family lawyer or a divorce lawyer, you’re often under a great deal of pressure.

Things can happen quickly and suddenly you’re struggling and juggling with daily life.

There are bills to pay. Electricity, gas, rates or rent. Mortgage repayments. Food, clothes, petrol and phone billls. There’s uncertainty about money coming into the family home. How do you guarantee that? What about temporary financial support?

And then there's more personal matters. Are your children leaving your home or staying with you? What about child support, and applying for help through a child support agency? What other help is available?

You’re also likely worried about the effects of separation on your children, just getting them to school, or maybe simply maintaining access to your family.

Sometimes too, there is domestic violence – real or threatened – to deal with.

Stabilising your life

You need practical help and support to cope with the immediate demands of separation.

Our team of family lawyers focuses on helping you stabilise your life with understanding and practical guidance. Once you are settled, we can start tackling the problems of separation together.

What will it cost me?

That’s another common worry clients have. You need advice, but often money is also tight. Encouragingly, your first appointment with us is free while you are still sorting yourself out.

After that, we will give you an accurate estimate on what continuing to work with us will cost you. You can talk to us about payment options including deferred payments.

What is distinctive about our family and relationship lawyers?

Experience

We are experienced at dealing with all family law matters including property settlements, asset distributions, family court orders, custody and access to children, mediation, child support, and of course separation and finally divorce, financial agreements, applications by grandparents and spousal maintenance and practical financial issues.

Convenience

With 24 office locations throughout Victoria, you can choose to come in and see us at an office location close to your home.

Plain English and common sense

The law can intimate people. We talk with you using everyday terms and language – not jargon, and we encourage you to ask questions.

Quick resolutions

We resolve matters quickly, keeping costs and frustration to a minimum.

Money

We offer the convenience of various payment options.

Reliability

Our team is always there for you.

Julie Earl, Ryan Carlisle Thomas Family Law Lawyer, discusses common Family Law issues

Ryan Carlisle Thomas Family law lawyer Julie Earl offers advice on mediation, property and Family Law, domestic violence and Family Law, and obtaining legal advice for Family Law matters.

Mediation.

1. Mediation.

Property and Family Law.

2. Property and Family Law.

Family or domestic violence and Family Law.

3. Family or domestic violence and Family Law.

How do court orders protect against domestic violence?

4. How do court orders protect against domestic violence?

Getting legal advice on Family Law matters.

5. Getting legal advice on Family Law matters.

 

Here are our areas of Family Law practice

Personal protection and family violence

Unfortunately family violence is a common component of family law and separation. You may need help in applying for an Intervention Order or to seek restraints and injunctions to protect you or your children from family violence. Or sometimes to protect your property. These applications can be made through the Magistrates Court or the family law courts.

Children and custody issues

A major concern for most families is what happens to their children. Questions to sort through include where the children live and with whom and how they maintain a meaningful relationships with both parents to arrive at what is your particular child’s best interests. Of immediate concern many women in particular is how they continue to financially support their children, and whether assistance is available through a child support agency.

Some parents are concerned about one parent removing children from their current home or school or absconding overseas. Other typical problems concern decisions about your child’s future such as where they go to school or what religion they follow.

While these matters can be discussed informally through mediation, at times legal intervention and support may be required and we can help.

There are times where children are at risk of abuse, neglect or being exposed to family violence.

Sometimes a parent, or even a grandparent, will have concerns that a child is not being cared for properly by the other parent, or at risk of abuse, neglect or being exposed to family violence. These issues may have been reported to the appropriate child protection services and police but no further action is taken, leaving that parent or grandparent frustrated and worried for the child but feeling at a loss as to what to do. In these situations we can help.

Medical procedures – including gender dysphoria

Aside from the questions relating to children’s living arrangements and the responsibilities of life decisions, children and teenagers may sometimes need medical treatment including surgery for which legal authority is required.

Even parents who are not separated may need family law advice, particularly when facing issues of gender dysphoria or other medical questions that require Family Court Orders. Gender dysphoria is an increasingly recognised condition where people feel strongly that they are of the opposite gender or sex, and seek gender reassignment therapy and surgery.

Income

The uncertainty of not having an ongoing income stream can be daunting. We can advise and help to obtain child support whether that is by an assessment through the Child Support Agency or by private agreement. We can help you calculate the amount of child support available.

Otherwise you may have potential spousal maintenance entitlements or responsibilities to consider.

Property division

Irrespective of whether you were married or in a de facto relationship, the division of your assets after a separation, particular the family home will need to be explored, along with superannuation, inheritances and other assets and liabilities. There are various options to divide your assets that do not necessarily result in going to Court. We can assess and work with you to finalise your property division without having to step foot in a courtroom.

Even older couples may need to consider their futures not only for Wills and Estate matters but also as a result of involuntary separation due to illness. With the added pressures of blended families and de facto partners, as a senior member of the community you may need to consider how to protect your children’s inheritances or possibly to enable you to stay in your home if your partner has been placed into care and no longer competent to make decisions. Arrangements can be put in place to allow for those types of contingencies or assistance in the event that it becomes an unfortunate reality.

Financial agreements – blended families

With the ever increasing number of blended families and relationships starting later in life, many need to consider the protection of assets for their children of previous relationship or from repeat exposure to family law property divisions. Financial agreements can be discussed to determine whether it is right for you and the protection your income or assets whether it is at the start of a relationship, during or following a separation.

De facto relationships

Defacto couples, whether they be heterosexual or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex couples, have the same rights under the Family Law Act as do married couples. There are certain requirements that must be met in order for your relationship to be classified as a ‘defacto relationship’ for the purposes of the Family Law Act. We can provide advice about what those requirements are, what you are entitled to upon separation from your defacto partner and how you can divide your property.

Divorce – lawyers to help with divorce applications

While most divorces can be completed with relative ease, it is important that you obtain legal advice as to the consequences of applying for divorce, particularly where your assets have not yet been divided.

For some navigating the divorce application can also be difficult due to family violence, language barriers or periods of separation under one roof. Family law advice can assist you navigate these issues, and of course assist you with making a divorce application.

Trial separations

Some couples may decide to trial a separation before concluding that their relationship is at an end. In these circumstances parties may decide to seek legal advice about their rights and obligations. Some parties may decide to separate under the same roof with the intention of attempting to work through relationship issues.

It is important that you seek legal advice regarding the division of the assets and liabilities of the marriage even if you are only considering separation.

Information is knowledge, and the more you know about the legal ramifications of separation the more prepared you will be if you do decide to separate permanently. Likewise if there are children of the marriage or relationship you should seek legal advice regarding the on going parenting of the children so that if you do decide to separate permanently you are aware of your legal entitlements.

Relocation

After separation some parents which to relocate with their child/children. If relocation if going to limit the amount of time of frequency of time spent with a parent, consent will need to be granted by the other parent prior to relocation. If an agreement cannot be reached about relocation an application can be made to the Court for an Order to allow for the relocation to occur. An application can also be made to prevent relocation from occurring. The Court will consider the impact the relocation will have on the child/children and the effects it will have on their ongoing relationship with both parents.

The Law is very clear that a child should have the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. A Court may not give permission for a relocation to occur if the relocation is not considered to be in the best interest of the child/children. If relocation has occurred without consent of both parties the Court may Order the child/children be returned.

If one party unilaterally relocates with a child/children of the relationship an application may be made to the Court for child/children to be returned. The Court takes a breach of Court Orders very seriously, consequences can include a term of imprisonment. The Court requires the consequences of breached Orders to be attached to the back of all Court Orders relating to children.

Frequently asked questions

When is the best time to seek legal advice?

The decision to seek legal advice can be difficult to make but the earlier you seek advice about your rights and obligations the sooner you can make decisions and move forward. Following the breakdown of your relationship, you will have a lot of decisions to make, some you may find challenging or overwhelming.

In our experience, we find that getting advice early on about where you stand legally can help to ensure that you make the right decisions for both you and your family.

Are there alternatives to going to court?

Yes. You can resolve disputes in a number of ways. Mediation is the most common alternative and you can discuss and negotiate most matters relating to separation. Mediation can be very successful but it does require full and frank disclosure and an element of good faith.

You may attend a mediation by yourself, or with one of our lawyers – whichever suits you best.

Aside from mediation you can explore other options such as arbitration or negotiations directly between you or through your lawyers.

Can I have a property settlement without going to court?

Definitely. Our aim is to ensure that your property division is resolved quickly and amicably and without either party having to apply to court. In most cases, we can help our clients to obtain a property settlement by negotiation with their former partner or lawyer.

Once an agreement has been reached, it is important that it is formalised in writing. In financial matters this can be achieved by way of a Consent Order or a Financial Agreement and is completed without having to step foot in a court. 

For matters relating to children, similar agreements can be made as to those relating to financial issues or you may consider agreeing to a parenting plan.

How is a court proceeding commenced?

Unfortunately, if negotiations are successful it can be necessary to issue proceedings in court to protect a you and and your property.

A court application can be made in the Family Court, Federal Circuit Court or the Magistrates Court as they all have jurisdiction to hear cases under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Depending on your situation, we will advise you on the most appropriate court for your case.

Court proceedings are commenced when one of you lodge an Initiating Application with the Court, essentially asking the Court to make orders about the issues you cannot agree upon. 

The person applying to the court is called the Applicant and the person you are in dispute with is called the Respondent. Both of you are required to file a documents explaining to the court what you want (your Application), an Affidavit, setting out the reasons why you are asking the court to make the orders you seek and in financial cases, you will also file a Financial Statement, disclosing all of your income, expenditure, assets and liabilities. Depending on your case, sometimes other documents may also need to be filed with the court.

Once the Initiating Application has been filed, the court will allocate a hearing date. We call this date the "First Return Date or Interim Hearing". Your documents will be served on the Respondent and they will in turn be required to prepare and their documents outlining their position, similar to those required by the Applicant.

You will then both attend the First return date.

What happens at court?

On the First Return Date (or interim hearing), both parties along with their solicitor or a barrister, will attend Court.

You will be allocated to a court with a number of other cases. There is an expectation that the parties will try to negotiate a settlement on some or all of the issues. If agreement can be reached on all matters, a judge can make Final Orders will be made on the day and no further court hearings are required.

The first return date is also for urgent or pressing matters such as where the children will live or how often they will spend time with one parent. If the issue is financial it may relate to the sale of property or payment of financial support  If an agreement cannot be reached at the first return date, the judge will make interim orders and you will be allocated another hearing date.

In children's matters, your case will then be adjourned for a further hearing (which could be another interim hearing or a trial).  Orders can be made for child inclusive counselling and a Family Report may be ordered. Before the next hearing, usually further documents such as affidavits will need to be filed with the court.

In financial matters, if no agreement can be reached, the matter will be adjourned for a Conciliation Conference which is conducted by a Registrar of the Court and both parties attend with their lawyers.  Prior to that conference you are required to provide evidence of your financial circumstances and the values of any assets. The Registrar assists the parties to try and reach agreement about the division of property. If agreement is reached, a Final Order can be made on that day.

If you still cannot resolve your issues at the interim stage, your case is then adjourned to a Final Hearing or trial. Both of you will be required to file further documents.

What are the consequences for breaching Court Orders?

Once Court Orders are in place you must take all reasonable steps to comply with the contents of the Order. When Orders specify contact arrangements for the children you must comply. Failure to comply with Orders may result in an application to the Court. When an application is made to the Court about a breach of Orders the Court will consider the circumstances of the breach and decide if the breaching party has a reasonable excuse. The Court may find it reasonable to breach an Order where the actions were necessary to protect the health and safety of the child. If the Court decides a breach occurred penalties imposed may include anything from variations to the Order, financial sanctions or imprisonment.

Once I am in a relationship, is my partner automatically entitled to 50% of the assets if we separate?

No. The division of assets following the breakdown of a relationship is determined by numerous issues and not an automatic 50-50 split. When considering the division of assets, you need to consider the sections of the Family Law Act which look at:

  1. Assessing whether it is fair to vary your existing property interests;
  2. Consider the contributions you have both made to those assets taking into account both financial and non-financial contributions;
  3. Identify your and your former partner’s needs moving forward. Relevant considerations include whether you have a child or children living with you, your health, income and earning capacity.

This is not a formula and will be different for each family and you cannot assume that there will be an equal division. It is important to obtain advice from an experienced family lawyer to assess your entitlements. 

What happens to our children when we separate?

Just because you separate, does not mean you stop being a parent and facing the joys and challenges that role brings. The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) supports a child maintaining strong relationships with all members of their family and is focused on the best interests, safety and wellbeing of children. 

You can both make arrangements as to the ongoing care of your children as long as you continue to both works towards your children’s best interests. Generally speaking your children should spend as much time with each parent as is appropriate and practicable. This will vary from family to family.

You and your former partner may not be able to agree on what is in your children’s best interests or how it can be achieved. Or, there are protective concerns for the physical, emotional or psychological wellbeing of your children. In which case you may wish to speak to a family lawyer about how to best determine and balance those interests. 

Call 1300 366 441 or find us at an office near you to arrange a free and confidential appointment with one of our Family Law solicitors.