Notes on the Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines

Notes on the Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines

The notes provide guidance on how the Commonwealth family law and child support guidelines in the Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Handbook for Lawyers (the Handbook) are interpreted and applied, and provide commentary and examples on:

  • Eligibility criteria: a detailed explanation of what is required to meet eligibility criteria guideline requirements with examples.
  • Grants assessment process: information on how to apply for funding at each stage as the matter progresses. This includes information on common fee pathways, the professional costs that should be recommended at each stage, the ATLAS template to be used and what information to provide to Assignments where Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) assesses eligibility.
  • Documentary requirements: the documents required to be retained on the file (or uploaded to ATLAS for guidelines where VLA assesses eligibility) as evidence of compliance with the guidelines.
  • Fees and billing: The fees available for each stage of the matter, how to correctly claim at each stage of a matter, and the conditions attaching to grants.

The notes also provide links to family law worksheets which guide lawyers through the eligibility criteria and the documentary requirements that apply.

The notes are embedded throughout the guidelines and are no longer available in a Word format.

The notes form part of the Handbook and are intended to be read with the Handbook and the Notes on the guidelines – simplified grants assessment process. The latter document provides more general information on applications under the SGP, including information on the means test and disbursements. Forms for use in the SGP are also available online.

Lawyers applying for grants of assistance are required to apply both the guidelines and these notes. Where there is any inconsistency between the notes and the guidelines, the guidelines will prevail.

We recommend you first refer to the notes before contacting Assignments with a query. If the notes do not clarify the issue, or if you have a query which relates to a particular matter, contact Assignments Family Law on (03) 9606 5355 or by email: assignmentsfamily@vla.vic.gov.au.

Fee pathway flowcharts

These flowcharts form part of the notes and provide a visual representation of information in the Handbook and the Notes which set out potential fee pathways in certain matters:

Changes made to the guidelines in​ 2017

In July 2017, VLA published redrafted family law and child support guidelines. Significant changes have been made to the structure and language of the guidelines to make them clearer, more consistent and easier to apply.

It was not our intention in redrafting the guidelines to expand or restrict eligibility criteria. In the process of addressing inconsistencies and anomalies however, some minor substantive changes have been made, some of which expand eligibility criteria.

The following minor substantive changes have been made to the guidelines:

  • Inclusion of drug or alcohol dependency as a vulnerability in the priority FDRS client definition. This must be linked to the person’s ability to participate in FDRS. This is a change in eligibility criteria.
  • Inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in in the priority litigation client definition. This is a change in eligibility criteria.
  • Inclusion of disability in in the priority litigation client definition. This term covers ‘serious health condition or physical disability’ currently missing from the ‘priority matter’ definition and must be linked to the person’s ability to represent themselves in litigation or impact on the ability of the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with the person or another party. This is a change in eligibility criteria.
  • Removal of requirement in the redrafted Family Dispute Resolution Service (FDRS) guideline for there to be ‘a matter currently before the court’ where a person is relying on the criterion that the child’s ability to maintain a meaningful relationship with a parent ‘will be substantially prejudiced by the proposals or conduct of a party to the dispute’. This is a change in eligibility criteria.
  • The guideline relating to assistance for nullity proceedings has been removed. Assistance may still be available for nullity proceedings under the Commonwealth special circumstances.
  • Changing the wording in the guideline to clarify that we have extended availability for FDRS to alleged perpetrators in matters involving allegations of family violence. This is a change in eligibility criteria.
  • Inclusion of a condition that a lesser fee is available for the first day of trial in matters appearing in the Less Adversarial Trial stream in the Family Court where the hearing is a directions hearing and no evidence is taken.

The following non-substantive changes have been made to the guidelines:

  • The guidelines are now organised under matter type (parenting disputes, spousal maintenance, etc.), client type (adult or child) and service type (advice and negotiation, FDRS or litigation). This means that the numbering of guidelines has changed.
  • Each guideline lists every applicable criterion that must be met for legal assistance to be granted to particular types of people (adults or children) and for particular services.
  • The pre-July 2017 terms of ‘priority client’ and ‘priority matter’ have been replaced with priority FDRS client and priority litigation client respectively. This makes it clearer to characterise which definition applies to which grant.
  • The list of core client vulnerabilities in the two priority client definitions are now the same. This addresses unintended inconsistencies. These vulnerabilities must impact on the person’s ability to:
    • participate effectively in FDRS (priority FDRS client), or
    • run their own case in court, or impact on the child’s ability to maintain a meaningful relationship with them or the other party (priority litigation client).

The additional client characteristics of homelessness and experience or risk of family violence continue to be available under the priority client definition for FDRS

  • The criteria in the pre-July 2017 ‘priority client’ definition relating to situations where there are:
    • risks to the wellbeing or safety of the child
    • risks to the ability of the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with a parent, or
    • allegations of family violence

continue to apply where assistance is sought for FDRS. These criteria are now covered in part C of Guideline 1.2 – FDRS for adults in parenting disputes.

  • The criterion in the pre-July 2017 ‘priority matter’ definition relating to situations where there is a risk to the wellbeing or safety of the child which meets the required standard of seriousness, continues to apply where assistance is sought for litigation. This requirement is now covered in criterion C of Guideline 1.3 – litigation for adults in parenting disputes.
  • There is no longer a separate guideline for the following grants of assistance:
    • discharge or vary existing parenting orders
    • contravention or enforcement of orders, or for contempt of court proceedings
    • parties who are not parents.

The same requirements continue to apply to these grants. Each relevant guideline now lists the criteria that apply in these circumstances. This minimises the need to move between different guidelines and different parts of the Handbook.

  • Information about fees in child support and other family law matters has been combined in the fee tables. This has resulted in some minor renumbering, and in some instances renaming some stage-of-matter fees. For example, stage 1 for independent children’s lawyer (ICL) matters has been renamed ‘First Court hearing and FDRS for ICLs’.