Upcoming changes will support effective independent children’s lawyers practice

Upcoming changes will support effective independent children’s lawyers practice

Monday, 15 October 2018

We are introducing small but important changes to the way we seek financial contributions from parties in family law matters involving an independent children’s lawyer (ICL), to ensure our services remain efficient and effective.

ICLs are appointed by the family courts in difficult family law disputes between parents where the court needs to hear an independent assessment about the child or children’s best interests. ICLs are allocated and funded by state and territory legal aid commissions.

‘Children and young people are priority clients for VLA and our 2015 Family Law Legal Aid Services Review identified the need for us to support ICLs more effectively in their important role representing the child or children’s best interests,’ Victoria Legal Aid Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law, Nicole Rich said.

‘During the review people also told us that we should more actively ask parties in family law disputes who have the financial resources to contribute to the cost of the ICL to do so,’ Ms Rich said.

The review accepted this feedback because this will help to fund other supports for ICLs which have been implemented, including a new streamlined process for ICL grant requests, ICL advocacy training, and funding for ICLs to instruct in complex matters and to request important expert reports.

Contributions

We currently request non-legally-aided parties to pay a lump sum contribution amount for the cost of the ICL.

From 1 November 2018, we are increasing the amount sought to reflect the average cost of an ICL matter. For two parties, the new fees will be $3,342.50 (Federal Circuit Court matter) and $4,782.50 (Family Court matter) each.

The parties will also be able to seek a reconsideration of this contribution amount if they are concerned they cannot pay, by completing and returning a financial statement to VLA.

Using this financial information, we will apply our means test to determine whether the contribution should remain, be reduced, or be waived.

Cost applications

ICLs are currently required to consider making a cost application against parties if they think it is appropriate in the circumstances.

This remains important. Such circumstances include where a party’s assets and income are so significant that it would be an inappropriate burden on the public purse to fund an ICL, or where a party’s conduct has resulted in significant additional funding being expended on the ICL file. ICLs must also consider what impact a cost order might have on the child or children.

If a costs order is made, a copy of the order must be attached to the ICL file and noted on the ATLAS file outcome.

We are planning to offer more training on making costs applications as an ICL, to ensure we are providing effective support for our ICL partners.

Practice Standards

Practitioners are reminded that on 1 November 2018 we are also introducing changes to practice standards and fee structures for family law dispute resolution and litigation, which will affect ICLs.

These changes make clear the requirements for effective preparation of family law matters. They also clarify that ICLs are required to meet with the child or children whose interests they represent unless they have compelling reasons not to do so.

More information

For more information on the Family Law Legal Aid Services Review please contact Samantha Watson, Manager Family Law Review on Samatha.Watson@vla.vic.gov.au

For more information about ICL funding please contact Stacey Denley, Assignments Coordinator, Court Ordered (Family) for further advice on (03) 9606 5225 or Stacey.Denley@vla.vic.gov.au

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