By Gianna Huesch
Victim support groups have criticised the magnitude of family court fee increases, claiming lives are at risk due to people being “priced out of the justice system”, a Perth newspaper reports.
Family court proceeding fees have risen by a massive 275% in the past six years, from $108 per lodgment to $405. Applying for a divorce has risen by more than 95% since 2008 when it cost $432—it now costs $845. Similarly, an application for ‘nullity’ is up from $682 in 2008, to now costing $1195.
There has been much criticism in the past year of the problems plaguing the family court system. Oft noted are the extreme delays court users are suffering, sometimes up to three years to achieve a final outcome. Now there are renewed criticisms of the high amounts charged for court proceedings. In WA, Family Court Chief Judge Stephen Thackray said:
“The magnitude of these fees now poses a major obstacle to the delivery of justice to the many people who do not qualify for an exemption but have real difficulty affording fees for litigation.”
Yet, the paper reports, state and federal governments say it’s “out of their hands”. With the Federal Government responsible for family court fees, the attorney-general’s department was asked about the fee increases and told the former Rudd-Gillard government was to blame. The attorney-general’s department spokeswoman is quoted as saying, “Fee increases stem from the 2010-11 and 2012-13 Budgets and were decisions of the former government”.
This may be partly true, however it is disingenuous because it ignores the fact that in June last year, the Federal Government attempted to impose even higher fee increases. The Government was eventually forced to abandon the plan when the fee hikes were rejected by the Senate. In the end, increased fees were paid by customers for about a month before the matter was resolved and fees reverted back to pre-June 2015 amounts.
The fear is that the nation’s most vulnerable families, for example those living with domestic violence, are placed at greater risk if they are desperate for help but can’t afford it. While there are processes in place for people to apply to have their fees reduced or exempted, victims’ groups say that vulnerable people often fall through the cracks, not least due to the amount of paperwork involved in making such applications, which can be daunting.
To qualify for a reduced fee for an application for divorce, you need to hold certain Government concession cards or demonstrate financial hardship or if filing a joint application both parties need to be eligible. For other applications, an exemption may be possible. See more about fee reductions and exemptions here: http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/reports-and-publications/publications/fees/guidelines-for-exemption-of-court-fees
And for the full list of court fees, please see: http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/forms-and-fees/fees-and-costs/fees