How much a family lawyer costs

Financial resources can often be a barrier to people seeking legal advice on family law matters. It is not uncommon that after the breakdown of a relationship, one party may be financially disadvantaged or restricted compared to the other, particularly in situations where someone has been subjected to financial abuse. Clients frequently approach family lawyers concerned that they will be charged an inordinate amount and be left in a worse financial situation than before.

Generally speaking, many family lawyers in South Australia who practice in the Federal Circuit Court, charge their clients on the basis of the South Australian Supreme Court scale ( which sets out a minimum charge schedule ) but can contract with their clients via a costs agreement to calculate their fees on a different basis.

If proceedings are instituted in either the Family Court of the Federal Circuit Court, there are fixed filing fees that must be paid to the Court, unless a party is in receipt of a Commonwealth Government Pensioner Concession Card or Health care Card in which case the fees are either exempt or in the case of a divorce application, charged at a lower rate. It is possible to apply for an exemption of filing fees due to financial hardship, which the Court assesses on an individual basis.

There is also potential for a party subject to family law proceedings to be liable to pay for the other party’s legal costs, otherwise known as “party to party” costs. In this scenario, a party seeking to have their legal fees paid by the other party must apply to the Court. The Court will then decide whether it is reasonable to order that one person pay the other person’s legal costs. This will be determined based on the nature of the proceedings and the overall conduct of each party, but in most cases each party pays their own costs.

Although party-party costs are also set by the Federal Government annually in Schedule 1 of the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 (Cth), the Court has a wide discretion and may depart from that scale. This scale is different and less than the fees that most lawyers charge for their individual costs incurred by their client, which is known as solicitor/ client costs.

When consulting a family lawyer, it is crucial that you are upfront with them at the earliest possible stage about your financial situation and your ability to pay their fees. A solicitor is required to give you an estimate of what your fees are likely to be prior to commencing any work for you, and update their cost estimate as the case develops. The more complex that a legal matter is, the greater the legal fees are likely to be.

This is due to many factors, including but not limited to;

• the additional work a solicitor will be required to do;
• court filing fees;
• barrister fees;
• required expert reports (e.g. family assessments in children’s matters or valuation of asset in property matters)
• the attitude of the other party to the matter

A lawyer is also required to tell you when and how you will be required to pay your legal fees. Depending on who you consult and your financial situation, a lawyer may agree to a cost arrangement whereby you can pay your fees in instalments or once you have received settlement.

Moloney & Partners’ experienced family lawyer Linda Neill charges family law clients according to the Supreme Court scale. Linda always ensures she frequently updates clients about their costs so they are aware of the costs being incurred as the matter proceeds. Linda also negotiates payment arrangements with her clients that are mutually suitable for both the firm and the client.