Do I need a lawyer?
Depends on your circumstances. It is always in your interest to get legal advice. Court staff can explain court procedures, but they cannot give you legal advice (always ask who is the best person to speak with and if they have a duty lawyer). The Family Court provides a number of do-it-yourself kits which are available from the Family Court or can be downloaded here.
The application forms are designed in plain language to make the process easier for people who are using the courts without the help of a lawyer. If representing yourself be informed and seek out advice at the various stages including the application. If possible get a trusted person to read your applications, and or allow yourself time to do a final check. Make sure that the judge will clearly understand your position. Headings and key points can be helpful.
In choosing a lawyer you need to choose someone who is experienced in Family Law and has some awareness of domestic violence and child abuse issues. Most states have a women`s information/referral service.
Lawyers usually charge by the hour for all the work they do on your behalf including their discussions with you and going to court, preparing letters and documents, reading letters and other documents. There will also be set charges for photocopying and other fees that the solicitor incurs while working on your matter. If you have to go to court, they may engage a barrister (also known as ‘counsel’) to argue your case before a judge. Ask the lawyer what the charges will be.
The Family Law Rules set out the amounts that lawyers can charge for family law work. Some lawyers may ask you to agree to pay costs on a different basis. The Rules allow this provided that the lawyer:
- Gives you a copy of the Family Court’s brochure Costs of Family Law Proceedings.
- Advises you of the availability of independent legal advice.
- You agree to enter a costs agreement, which is set out in a written agreement between you and your lawyer.
- It is your choice whether you decide to accept a costs agreement or seek out a lawyer who charges at the rate set by the Family Law Rules.
- It is a good idea to ask your lawyer to put the agreed charges in writing. This is known as a ‘Costs Agreement’
Working with your lawyer:
Remember it is your case and your lawyer works for you.
- Your lawyer should clearly explain your legal position to you, tell you what your choices are and tell you what she or he thinks is the best course for you to take.
- Your lawyer should always keep you informed of the progress of your case and your ongoing costs. She or he should not agree to anything with your husband or partner or his legal adviser unless you have agree to it first.
- You can ask questions about anything you do not understand.
It is important that you understand what your lawyer says so that you may make informed decisions. If you have difficulty in understanding the procedures or what you are required to do or what your options are, ask your lawyer to explain things to you clearly and in plain English. If you still do not understand ask them to put it in writing and you can take some time later to look through this.
It is important that your lawyer understands what you want, so give clear instructions. You are the one who should be making the actual decisions about your case. Because many women feel intimidated when talking to their lawyer it is often beneficial to write down all the things you want to say and all the questions you want to ask before you go to an appointment with your lawyer.
- Each time you talk to your lawyer you pay for their time.
- Lawyers are not trained counsellors and it usually is a waste of time and money to tell your lawyer about your unhappiness and anger. Discuss these things with a friend or counsellor. *
- To check at the time of making an appointment whether the solicitor offers a special deal for the first appointment. In certain circumstances a first appointment may be free or a fixed sum charged for a specified time.
- Tell your lawyer about any violence or abusive behaviours that you or your children experienced during your relationship, and following separation. Even if this is information that you
You can save money by:
Taking and or getting any documents that your lawyer says such as your marriage certificate, bank books, receipts and details of any property you own to your lawyer on your first visit.
Preparing notes for your lawyer about when you first started living together, when you separated, what your partner’s and children’s full names are, dates of birth and any other significant event in your relationship such as when you purchased a home. Also include information on both you and your ex-partner’s working history including details about finances and assets (such as the value of the house, car and superannuation) and details of any existing financial arrangement. Check to see if you can email this information as this can also save the cost. Also;
- Write down questions you want to ask.
- In the appointment feel free to take notes about the solicitor’s advice, and ask the solicitor to explain if you do not understand. You can also ask if they think you might be eligible for Legal Aid.
- Do not sign anything or agree to anything you do not understand.
- Rather than ringing your lawyer every time you have a question, make a list of questions over a period of time and then either ring or making an appointment with your lawyer
Not happy with your lawyer’s bill?
If you are concerned that you were charged too much, the Family Court has a procedure to review legal bills and to deduct unreasonable charges.
You may do this before or after you pay the bill.