When a little means a lot

When a little means a lot

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

It’s hard to overestimate the positive impact legal intervention can make in delivering financial equity for women after separation.

A win by our Child Support team in the Federal Circuit Court earlier this year is a reminder of the vital role family law can play in achieving justice for vulnerable people.

Our client, Karen (not her real name), a sole parent, lives with her 19-year-old daughter, Mandy (not her real name). Mandy has Down's Syndrome, with multiple conditions associated with her physical and intellectual disabilities and requires 24-hour care. Her mother has always provided that care and hasn’t been in paid employment since her daughter was born.

When she turned 18, Mandy’s child support from her father stopped. Unfortunately, the high medical and support costs associated with her conditions did not. Mandy and Karen became solely reliant on Centrelink benefits. Mandy is registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which covers many of her required services, but not all of her necessary expenses. Mandy also has poor vision and her companion dog from Guide Dogs Victoria died two years ago, and they were on a wait list for another dog.  They also live in poorly insulated public housing, and as Mandy’s condition makes it hard for her to regulate her body temperature, this means they have particularly high heating and cooling bills.

Life in dad’s household is very different. Mandy’s father is a bank manager on a salary of nearly $200,000. He remarried and lives in the home he jointly owns with his wife. Together they have a combined household income of around $300,000. The father pays $40,000 a year towards the costs for Mandy’s sibling, more than half of which goes towards private school fees. Mandy lacks a warm relationship with her Dad and has not seen him for a long time.

The dispute? There is no doubt that Mandy has financial need and our client can clearly establish that Mandy’s reasonable living expenses are $470 a week or $24,440 a year. There is equally no doubt that Mandy’s father has capacity to contribute to her needs. Our client seeks a contribution of $400 a week. Mandy’s father disputes this amount and offers to pay $500 a month, or $6000 a year.

In March this year, after two years of litigation and the persistence of our lawyers, the Federal Circuit Court ordered Mandy’s father to pay the $400 a week Karen and Mandy were seeking, indexed to CPI. Given Mandy’s disabilities are permanent, the court was satisfied that an ongoing order should be made.

Child Support Program Manager Kathleen Ng said Mandy’s case highlighted the critical role Victoria Legal Aid played in protecting vulnerable clients and improving their quality of life.

‘While the family still has no long-term financial security, our intervention and the subsequent court decision has made a vast difference to day-to-day living for Mandy and her mother.

‘Perhaps our greatest compliment comes from Karen who was very grateful to our lawyers for assisting her in compiling her documents for court, preparing her case for hearing and ‘dragging her over the line’ when her spirits were flagging’. The client was also appreciative of the high-quality barrister briefed to appear, and who gave her confidence when she was giving evidence in court’, said Kathleen. 

Karen was keen to share her story as she said this will be helpful to other families in very similar positions. Panel lawyers with clients in similar positions should consider applying for a grant of aid for adult child maintenance under guideline 5.1 (advise and negotiation), guideline 5.4 (FDRS) or guideline 5.5 (litigation) as appropriate to their client’s situation.

More information

For more information on how we can assist you with your child support matter, see Get help with child support.

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