Can I represent myself in a Family Court Property Settlement?
I have recently separated from my husband. We have 3 kids 15, 12, and 8.
We are a middle class couple and own our family home and a couple of other real estate investments. We need to do a property settlement.
However, I have seen friends of mine charged extraordinarily expensive legal fees by their lawyers. Some have been charged $500 per hour for God’s sake.
Can I represent myself and just call on legal assistance if I feel I am getting out of my depth? If so, is there anything I need to be mindful of?
Yes. You most certainly can. The Family Court of Australia publishes a number of fact sheets in order to assist those who represent themselves. These sheets address matters such as the filing of documents, court dress and conduct and procedural matters. Duty solicitors (provided by the Legal Services Commission) or duty registrars may be able to provide assistance to self-represented persons, and while court staff cannot provide legal advice they are extremely helpful in explaining deadlines, filing procedure and can provide do-it-yourself kits for certain forms and applications.
At the end of the day the most important thing is for you and your husband to try and work out an agreement as to division of matrimonial assets that suits you both.
Legal fees can chew up a large share of matrimonial property and this is often as a consequence of one or both parties taking unreasonable positions. This may be as a consequence of one or both parties feeling hurt by the other but at the end of the day, unless common sense prevails both parties will suffer from increasing legal fees.
I note you have 3 children and they will require significant financial support, given their ages. This will need to be factored in to any property settlement agreed between yourself and your former partner or ordered by the Family Court.
Consider asking your partner if he is prepared to consult a mediator experienced in family court matters before either of you file court proceedings. In almost every property settlement matter, the Family Court will require the parties to undergo some form of dispute resolution and this is usually by way of mediation. It makes sense to do this first before legal fees are unnecessarily incurred. Get both
A very good fact sheet is provided here. Whilst it is a Western Australian publication, family court matters come under Commonwealth legislation [ie Family Court Act 1975 (Cth)] so the information in the fact sheet will be relevant no matter where you reside within Australia .