Simpler, clearer family law guidelines commence July 2017

Simpler, clearer family law guidelines commence July 2017

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The new-look guidelines which set out eligibility criteria for grants of legal aid in family law matters will come into effect on 3 July 2017.

A plain-language guideline rewrite, in consultation with panel practitioners and Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) lawyers, was one of 31 recommendations from the 2015 Family Law Legal Aid Services Review.  

It was never our intention to expand or restrict the eligibility criteria as part of the redraft. Rather, we wanted to make the guidelines, including information about fees payable, both clearer and more user-friendly.  

We knew, for example, that the terms ‘priority client’ and ‘priority matter’ are confusing for practitioners, so we’ve made those client vulnerability categories easier to apply.

’It was clear from the review that the guidelines have been a source of frustration for panel and in-house lawyers alike,’ says Gayathri Paramasivam, VLA’s Associate Director of Family Law.

’We want to thank all the practitioners from private practice, community legal centres and from VLA who joined the advisory group, or who provided feedback on the draft.

‘Your contribution helped us to clarify, simplify and restructure the guidelines. ‘

Ultimately, our clients benefit

Making it easier for lawyers to assess eligibility means families needing assistance with family law disputes can be referred to the right services more quickly.

The purpose of the redraft was not to change the criteria which determine who gets aid. However, by addressing inconsistencies and gaps, we’re confident that the new guidelines will help ensure better access to family law services by priority clients. More information about the kinds of changes made will be provided closer to implementation.

Vote of confidence

To ensure we were on the right track, we made the redrafted guidelines available online for lawyers to provide feedback. 85 per cent of those who responded to the online survey thought the new version was an improvement on the current guidelines –  81 per cent found them clearer, 93 per cent thought they were more consistent, and 81 per cent found them easy to use.

The constructive feedback we received enabled us to improve the guidelines further. Comments related to the fairness or otherwise of the eligibility criteria, while not within the scope of this project, have been taken onboard.

Next steps

To make it even easier to interpret the guidelines, we are rewriting the notes that support their application. This will also provide clearer information about fees payable.

When the new guidelines are rolled out, we will provide you with a ready reckoner of changes so you can see at a glance what’s different. We’re also developing checklists and flow charts to help practitioners understand the more complex guidelines, and will provide training around the state to explain the changes.  

More information

For any queries relating to the redrafted guidelines, contact Project Co-ordinator Catherine Caruana on (03) 9269 0371.