Introduction to Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines

Introduction to Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines

Commonwealth family law matters for which assistance may be granted

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) may make a grant of assistance to a person with a family law or child support matter arising under the following Commonwealth legislation:

These are legal services relating to:

Family-related legal matters also arise under state law. These include:

Commonwealth family law matters for which assistance will not be granted

We will not normally make a grant of legal assistance in the following Commonwealth family law matters:

  • applications to change a child’s name
  • preparation and filing of consent orders outside a grant of assistance
  • divorce or nullity applications
  • child’s passport and travel applications
  • parental responsibility options when a child’s primary carer has died
  • property only (ie where there is no dispute involving parenting, adult child maintenance or spousal maintenance).

In rare cases, a grant of assistance may be available in these matters where the Commonwealth special circumstances criteria and relevant threshold tests can be met.

Any application concerning a matter for which there is no specific guideline must be referred to us for a decision.

If a matter appears to be outside of the eligibility criteria in the guidelines, and the lawyer believes that the client or matter should be funded, they should consider making an application for assistance under the Commonwealth special circumstances criteria in ATLAS seeking discretion. We will assess the application.

If a lawyer is unsure whether a client or matter meets the eligibility criteria, they should submit an application for consideration in ATLAS, seeking discretion. If assistance is refused, the lawyer or client may be able to ask for the decision to be reconsidered.

Who can apply for legal assistance in family law matters?

Most applications for legal assistance in family law disputes are made by parents. VLA considers that in some circumstances, people other than parents (most commonly other family members), including children themselves, have standing to intervene in family law disputes as a third party or to issue proceedings in their own right. Legal assistance may be available for people who are not parents in the following matters in limited circumstances:

Legal assistance for children

We consider that it is usually most appropriate for legal assistance in family law matters to be provided to adults. We may make a grant of assistance for a child to be represented by a lawyer in two ways:

or

Providing a grant of assistance to a child litigant is rare and occurs only in limited circumstances. This includes where the person under 18 is the child who is the subject of the dispute relating to their care or welfare, and where they are a parent of a child who is the subject of a dispute.

Applications on behalf of a child who is the subject of the dispute (not where they are the parents) will be assessed by us.

Principles underlying the guidelines​

VLA has a statutory obligation to provide legal assistance in accordance with the Legal Aid Act 1978 (Vic). This requires us to provide legal aid in the most effective, economic and efficient manner, at a reasonable cost and on an equitable basis.

Grants of legal assistance comprise the most intensive and wide-reaching facet of our services. Eligibility criteria in our guidelines help us to manage our resources to ensure we fund legal representation for people who need it most.

The guidelines provide a framework for our staff and private and community legal centre lawyers to work in partnership to assess the eligibility of people seeking help based on their financial situation, the nature and seriousness of their problem and their individual circumstances.

The guidelines are a means of weighing up the cost of the legal services sought against the likely benefit to the applicant and/or the public. The family law guidelines specifically, focus on assisting people to resolve their family disputes to achieve safe, workable and child focused parenting and care arrangements. They also aim to assist parents to resolve disputes through early intervention and dispute resolution, with litigation funding being preserved for the most serious and urgent matters.

How these guidelines are structured

These guidelines set out eligibility criteria, structured by category of:

  • dispute, for example parenting disputes or disputes about spousal maintenance
  • person seeking assistance, for example adult or child
  • legal assistance provided, for example advice and negotiation, family dispute resolution at VLA's Family Dispute Resolution Service or litigation.

Tests that must be met to satisfy the eligibility criteria are listed under each guideline.

There are a number of threshold tests that must be met before eligibility under particular guidelines can be considered. For more information, see Threshold tests.

Words and terms in the guidelines that require definition are defined in the list of key definitions. These definitions form part of the guidelines.

Information to assist lawyers with the grants and applications process and the documentary evidence to support the application under each guideline, including flowcharts and checklists, is set out in the Notes on the Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines.

Conditions that apply to grants of assistance

For information about conditions that apply to grants of assistance generally, see the following sections of the Handbook:

Information relating to the conditions that apply in grants of assistance in Commonwealth family law and child support matters are set out in the individual guidelines.

How to apply for legal assistance

Most applications for legal assistance in family law matters are made via the simplified grants process (SGP). The following matters and stages do not form part of the SGP and must be assessed by VLA:

If a matter is to proceed beyond the stages provided for in the SGP, or does not fall within the SGP, then the lawyer should upload all relevant supporting documentation to ATLAS with the application, proof of means and details outlining what assistance is sought. We will assess the application.

For information about grants and applications in Commonwealth family law and child support matters and the documentary evidence needed to support the application under each guideline, see the Notes on the Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines.

For general information about the application process, see 16 – Applying for a grant of legal assistance.

Grants of assistance after final court orders have been made

After final court orders have been made, we may grant assistance for:

  • applications to discharge or vary existing parenting, child support, child maintenance, adult child maintenance and spousal maintenance orders where there has been a significant change in circumstance
  • applications for recovery orders, location orders or information orders
  • appeals
  • applications for contravention or enforcement of court orders, contempt of court or arrears of maintenance
  • ongoing work by an independent children’s lawyer (ICL) in exceptional circumstances where it is necessary for the implementation of orders.

We will not make a grant of assistance after final court orders have been made in circumstances other than those listed on this page.