Ideally you should see a family lawyer as soon as it becomes apparent that your relationship might end. If you see a lawyer before you separate it might help you with the process of separating, give you an idea of what will be the likely outcome if you do separate and prepare you for the process of separating.

However if you separate suddenly or without having seen a lawyer before, you are best to see a lawyer early to understand the process and likely results - even if the time is not yet right to start the settlement process.

If you are unsure, we have a page on why you may need to see a family lawyer.

When should I see a family lawyer?

Not having a lawyer, not getting the right advice about what is a fair settlement or how to protect your assets, is going to cost you a lot more than a lawyer.

It's better to think of your lawyer costs as the price you pay for peace of mind, to have someone guide you through the maze of family law and to protect you from making the wrong decision.

At every step of the way we will work with you to make sure you know your costs so far and to weigh up how much you want to spend to try and receive the right result. We also give you options as to how to reduce your costs.

Are lawyers expensive?

The cost of your matter will depend on many factors, but most times we are able to obtain information from you in the initial appointment that enables us to give you an accurate estimate of the path your matter is likely to take and the likely costs. We will explain to you why we think that, what are the likely costs to each stage and discuss with you the options for payment.

How much will my family law matter cost me?

Basically we don't offer a free 1st appointment because we are embarrassed that free appointments are worth about what you pay for them!

When a family lawyer offers a free first appointment it is usually for only 10 to 30 minutes and is usually just a "screening" appointment where the lawyer hears what your issues are and arranges to see you again at a later date to give the comprehensive advice you need.

At OFRM we recognise that seeing a family lawyer for the first time is a huge step, that you want to know we are taking our time to understand your situation and to discuss carefully with you both the things you want to know and the things that our experience tells us you need to understand.

We also know through meeting with many people that often it is difficult to remember everything discussed in an initial appointment, that's why our initial appointment fee includes writing to you afterwards to confirm what we discussed.

Our initial appointment is a lot less stressful, more useful and more reassuring for you than a "free" appointment.

Why don't you have a free 1st appointment?

How long is a piece of string? Yep, how long your family law matter takes to resolve depends on lots of variables.

The 2 most significant variables is whether you are able to reach agreement through negotiation or whether your matter needs to go to court.

If you have already reached agreement and the arrangements are in place for any refinancing through banks then the absolute best case between first seeing us and having the properties transferred would be 6 - 8 weeks, most of that time being waiting for the court to approve your agreement and taking the steps the banks require.

The worst case? If your matter has to go all the way to a judge deciding after a final hearing then you could be looking at something like 2 years from beginning to end.

However, on average we find that most of our clients have their matters finalised either within 3 to 6 months of first meeting with us or within commencing court proceedings.

How long will it take my family law matter to resolve?

Our lawyers Marika McMahon and Sam McGee are both Accredited Specialists in Family Law.

Being an Accredited Specialist requires:

  • Recommendations from colleagues that the lawyer is of a specialist standard
  • Sitting and passing strenuous exams which test family law knowledge, skills in meeting with clients (tested through a “mock interview” and file management including providing complicated advice
  • Completing more Continuing Professional Development each year

Marika and Sam have also both been members of the committee that examines family law specialisation candidates – being the only regional lawyers to fill that role in the last 12 years.

What does this mean for your matter?

  • An accredited specialist has a higher skill and experience level so can identify the issues in your matter easily, provide firm and confident advice to you and resolve your matter much more quickly than a lawyer who does not have that level of skill and experience
  • Accredited specialists are respected by other family lawyers, courts and barristers as having a particular skill level, this assists the smooth resolution of your matter
  • You can be assured that the specialisation system delivers results

What is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law?

Our family lawyers are respected as some of the best in Victoria, heading to Melbourne to see a family lawyer will not see you receiving any better legal advice and will just make things a lot more stressful and difficult for you. How can you be sure of this?

  • Our family law team includes 2 Accredited Specialists in family law, meaning our specialists have passed the same exams as any specialists anywhere in Australia
  • Our family law team regularly appear in court in Melbourne and are both well-known and regarded by the courts and lawyers throughout Victoria
  • We regularly receive referrals from lawyers from Melbourne and across Australia who realise that clients with Bendigo matters are much better to have their matters looked after locally
  • Local knowledge of things like the local property market, schools, psychologists, bank staff and so on is a huge advantage in family law matters
  • Our costs are consistently lower than city based lawyers – both on an hourly rate but also more importantly the amount of costs for the stage of each matter are significantly less than what we see Melbourne lawyers reaching _ Also, don’t underestimate the benefits of being easily able to see your lawyer – whether it be popping in to sign a document or a quick catch up on a question that is worrying you, that’s much easier locally

Wouldn't a Melbourne lawyer be better?

A divorce is a separate process from property matters and parenting matters. A divorce is the process of legally ending a marriage – we analogise it to “the official ripping up your marriage certificate”. You can apply for a divorce when you have been separated for 12 months. However, you can commence negotiations for a property settlement and children’s matters at any stage.

When can I get divorced?

There is no automatic arrangement that kicks into place when parties separate.

Many separated couples are able to reach an agreement for the arrangements for the children either between themselves or through mediation.

If parents are unable to agree and a Court is asked to make parenting Orders then under the Family Law Act the paramount consideration is “what is in the children’s best interests”.

To determine the child’s best interests the primary considerations are:

  • The need to protect the children from physical or psychological harm and/or from being exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence; AND
  • The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents.

There are then additional considerations which are to be taken into account including: the nature of the relationship between the child and its parents, the extent to which a child’s parents have taken or failed to take the opportunity to spend time and communicate with the child, the attitude to the child and the responsibilities of parenthood, any family violence, as well as the child’s wishes.

Who will the children live with?

In many family law matters, negotiations can lead to settlements outside of Court. Such negotiations can be directly between parties, between lawyers on behalf of parties or in mediation. Agreements are then submitted to the Family Court for approval without the need for parties and their lawyers to attend. In some instances, it is necessary to initiate Court proceedings however the majority of matters are finalised without the need for the Final Hearing or Trial.

Can I avoid going to Court?

Not by default, although a 50/50 result does occur in some cases. What percentage is the right split depends upon:

  • The financial and non-financial contributions each party has made
  • The future needs of the parties
  • What is just and equitable in the overall circumstances

Will the property pool be divided 50/50?

Firstly, despite the common misconception, there is no magical age where a child gets to “decide” who they live with or spend time with. The Family Law Act gives power to the Courts to make parenting orders from children from their birth until they are 18 years old.

However, the children’s views and wishes are one of the many factors considered by the Court when determining what arrangements are in the child’s best interests. The importance given to children’s wishes can be given more or less significance having regard to age and maturity of the child, how strongly the views are held and the existence of other factors, such as the child’s safety.

A child’s views can be considered in child inclusive mediation or in court proceedings in the tested evidence of the parties, a family report or through an independent lawyer on behalf of the child.

You should contact us to obtain further advice about how your child’s views could be considered in your matter.

Will my kids get a say in the parenting arrangements?

It is very common concern that another party may be attempting to hide their assets or income. All parties in family law proceedings are required to make full and frank disclosure of their financial position to each other and the Court. This includes all assets, earnings, income, liabilities, interests, financial resources, and property held by trusts or companies. Parties are also required to account for any assets that they have disposed of since separation.

There are pre-action procedures which parties are required to comply with before initiating proceedings. There are consequences for parties that do not comply with this obligation.

If a party is not forthcoming with information, there are also other Court processes available to obtain that information.

What if I believe my ex-partner will hide assets?

We see many people who have not yet separated and many of them do not eventually separate. It can be very valuable to obtain advice about parenting or property matters in the event that you do separate. Such advice can prepare you to be in the best position in the event that you and your partner do eventually separate. We may also be able to refer you to other services that may assist you.

I haven’t separated but still want advice

Yes, it is possible to enter into a Binding Financial Agreement at any time during your relationship. Many people who seek financial security go down this path. Binding Financial Agreements can be used to set out how your property would be divided in the event of separation.

Are there steps I can take to protect my assets during my relationship?

Under the Family Law Act, de facto couples (heterosexual or same-sex) have the same rights as married couples.

The Court will look at the following factors to determine if your relationship is a de facto relationship:

  • The duration of the relationship
  • The nature and extent of a common residence
  • Whether a sexual relationship existed
  • The degree of financial dependence/interdependence
  • The ownership, use and acquisition of property
  • The degree of a mutual commitment to a shared life
  • The public aspects and reputation of the relationship (i.e. How others would have viewed the relationship)

De facto couples have a time limit of 2 years from the date of separation to make a property claim (although in some circumstances applications can be made out of time). It is therefore imperative that advice is sought as soon as possible.

In children’s matters, the Court deals with issues in the same way as they deal with children of married couples.

I’m not married — what does this mean for my family law matters?

Under the Family Law Act, same sex de facto couples have the same rights as heterosexual de facto couples and married couples.

The Court will look at the following factors to determine if your relationship is a de facto relationship:

  • The duration of the relationship
  • The nature and extent of a common residence
  • Whether a sexual relationship existed
  • The degree of financial dependence/interdependence
  • The ownership, use and acquisition of property
  • The degree of a mutual commitment to a shared life
  • The public aspects and reputation of the relationship (i.e. How others would have viewed the relationship)

What if I am in a same-sex relationship?

Yes, for married couples, you must resolve your matter or commence proceedings for a property settlement within 12 months of obtaining your Divorce.

De facto couples have a time limit of 2 years from the date of separation to make a property claim.

Outside of these time limits, you are required to seek the leave of the Court to proceed and such leave is only granted in exceptional circumstances. Upon separation, it is imperative that advice is sought as soon as possible.

Are there time limits that apply for a property settlement?

Child support is an ongoing, periodic payment made by one parent to another parent for the financial benefit of the child following separation. The payment of Child Support can be managed through the Australian Government Department of Human Services (Child Support Agency) or can be agreed directly between parties and/or formalised through an Agreement.

What is Child Support?

Spousal Maintenance is a payment made by one party to the other party in circumstances where the party receiving the payment (periodically or as a lump sum) is not able to adequately support themselves following separation and where the paying party has the capacity to make the payments.

If you would like to know whether you may be entitled to Spousal Maintenance or liable to pay Spousal Maintenance, you should contact us on 03 5445 1000.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

If you have reached an agreement with your ex-partner it is still important that you obtain advice from a family lawyer. We can provide with you advice about whether the agreement is appropriate and how to formalise that agreement to make it legally binding.

We’ve reached an agreement between ourselves — what do we do now?

Even if you and your ex-partner are able to reach an agreement between yourselves, that agreement should be formalised by:

  • Entering into a Binding Financial Agreement; or
  • Making an Application for Consent Orders (submitting the agreement in the appropriate form to the Court for their approval without the need for a Court hearing).

It is important to finalise any agreement made for a property settlement to avoid a party making a claim against the other in the future.

Do I need to fomalise a property settlement?

If we haven't answered your questions above then please call 03 5445 1000 and ask to speak with one of our family lawyers. They are always happy to help.

Still have questions?