There can be many different types of people, services and roles that you may come across when you are going through a family law matter in Australia.
Unless you are a lawyer or even a family lawyer, it can be difficult to understand who you need on your family law team to get the outcome that you want when it comes to your separation or divorce.
It is confusing!
Your legal team may have some or many of these people in it:
You: This is obvious and important. You are instrumental in your matter and will be making decisions regarding your actions, behaviour, negotiations and instructions to resolve your matter.
Your ex-partner: It would most certainly be easier if they were not involved, but they are. And whoever they are is what you have to work with — you cannot change that — but your decisions can greatly impact your matter.
A counsellor or psychologist: When going through a life-changing transition such as separation, it can be very helpful to attend regular appointments to discuss your feelings and thoughts, work through your grief, help you to create a positive mindset and help you to heal your heart. When I went through my separation, I had a counsellor, and it was a huge help to me. I highly recommend having one at this point in your life.
A solicitor: This is a type of lawyer who will usually work in law practice, most often runs a Trust Account and is responsible for running your family law matter from the beginning to the end. They will deal with all of your everyday legal requirements from advice to corresponding with the other side to drafting your documents when required. They will also attend court with you or mediation with you if required. Your solicitor is the go-to legal advisor you have selected independently. This is what my role is.
Paralegal: A paralegal is a legal assistant. They work in a law firm and assist the solicitors to type, send emails, file documents or create documents. These days, they are TAFE trained, but they may also be trained on the job.
Barrister: A barrister doesn’t make coffee, although that would be great! The coffee-making variety is a barista. Barristers don’t work in law firms; they work in what we call chambers. They do not run a Trust Account and usually have one room or office on a floor in a building that is filled with other barristers. A barrister is also a type of lawyer, but their role is different from that of a solicitor. A barrister is instructed on your behalf, usually by your solicitor. Solicitors usually choose a trusted barrister well known to them and experienced in the area of family law.
Barristers are called upon for a few reasons. One may be that your matter has complexities and your solicitor may require their legal opinion for further advice or for settling documents such as Consent Orders or a Binding Financial Agreement. The other reason that a barrister may be engaged is that your matter is going to mediation or is in court. It is the role of a barrister to give you further legal advice as well as to advocate for clients in a mediation or court setting. Advocacy and cross-
examination in court is a very specialist area, and barristers are trained to be your voice in a court setting. If your solicitor advises you to retain a barrister, this is something that you should consider.
Mediator: A mediator is a kind of go-between, helping parties communicate in a constructive way. Mediators must not be on either party’s side; rather, they must help you each communicate your desires, negotiate and ultimately resolve your family law matter.
Court Registrar: A registrar is also a lawyer; however, they have been appointed to the court as a manager or administrator of the court. They are public servants. There are several ways your family law matter may come in contact with a registrar of the court. One is that if your matter goes before the court, there are times a registrar can hear your matter much as a judge can; however, their powers differ from those of a judge. A common example of a registrar’s involvement is that if the court orders a conciliation conference, which is similar to a mediation, it may occur before a registrar. The most common way that family law matters come in contact with a registrar is when Consent Orders are filed with the Family Court. It is the role of the registrar to ensure that the application and the Minutes of Consent are compliant and in line with the Family Law Act as regards being just and equitable for both parties.
Judge’s Associate: This is a person who works in the courtroom with a judge. They are usually a trainee lawyer or newly graduated lawyer, though not always. They often take the position for only a year or two as a way to gain very specialised experience. You can think of them as the judge’s legal assistant. They do all sorts of things to run the courtroom, including the callover[KO1] , booking further court dates and bringing documents to the judge.
Judge: A judge works in the Federal Circuit Court and hears the majority of everyday family law matters that are filed. These matters may be simple or complex and involve property and parenting. Judges have very demanding roles and a huge responsibility.
Honourable Justice: The Family Court of Australia is different from the Federal Circuit Court and it has specialist judges called justices. They resolve very complex legal family disputes. Often these more complicated matters involve allegations of sexual abuse or the serious physical abuse of a child (Magellan cases) or international child abduction under the Hague Convention. In financial cases, the matters may involve very complex trust or corporate structures, complex questions of law or complex issues concerning superannuation.
Family consultant: Family consultants are qualified social workers or psychologists with skills and experience in working with children and families. They are appointed by the court to help parents and judicial officers achieve the best outcomes for children.
Independent Children’s Lawyer: This person may also be referred to as the ICL. An ICL is only involved if the parenting matter is before the court. If the court sees fit, it will order that an ICL be appointed to represent the child or children. The ICL is paid for by the government, often through Legal Aid or similar. Children do not meet the ICL; however, the ICL knows all the legal issues that the family and child face. They are appointed to act independently and in the best interests of the child or children.
Property valuer: A property valuer is an independent expert who can value your property.
Business valuer or forensic accountant: Again, this is an independent person who can provide a valuation of a business. This role is different from your accountant’s. They are specialised in forensic accounting.
Your family law matter may not need to have all of these different people involved, it depends on your circumstances, but it is good to have a basic understanding of the people and their roles as you move through your family law matter.
For family law advice that will set you on the right path, give us a call. Collective Family Law has a team of family lawyers in South East Queensland and we are ready to assist you. We help people in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Cleveland and online if clients are remote.
Click here to listen to our family law and divorce podcast, Divorce Collective on this topic.