Economic abuse is something that may not leave a visible bruise. But sometimes this insidious form of family violence gets exposed in the family courts. Abusers sometimes drag out proceedings to continue abuse and to try to financially ruin their victims or force them to stop litigation. They can, however, find it backfires on them. In a recent family court case, an abusive husband who deliberately misled a court and wasted everybody’s time found himself issued a court order to pay $45,000 towards his wife’s legal costs. Misleading the court and wasting time are reasons that fall into the category of “conduct of the parties”, which the courts must consider when determining questions of costs. Aside from not misleading the court, what other things should you be aware of that could make your divorce more costly?
Divorce: What not to do (or it could cost you)
The father in “Garrod & Davenport” (court-appointed pseudonyms) denied allegations of violence until after the mother’s case was closed and only then made admissions. His conduct was seen to have substantially increased the mother’s costs.
Parties usually bear their own costs unless circumstances justify otherwise. Here, the court thought the father’s behaviour ought to mean he contribute $45,000 to the mother’s costs. Although both parties received Legal Aid, which normally prevents a costs order being made, this time, it afforded the father no protection.
The father’s continued false denials of serious family violence and coercive controlling behaviour had misled the court. He had also misled the family report writer which had coloured her report. He was described as having an “insouciant attitude to the level of costs his behaviour had caused the mother to incur” and led to a “blatant failure to comply with the requirements of the Family Law Act”. His conduct in lengthening the trial time and caused the mother’s increased costs “weighed heavily” on the court’s decision.
Comply, don’t lie
As seen in the case above, the conduct of parties can be a deciding factor in increasing the cost of a divorce. It’s a broad factor for courts to consider, that encompasses all kinds of conduct, from deliberate to inadvertent. It refers to how you acted during the court process, not during the marriage.
Here are some things to consider about the court process.
- Don’t lie…
Needless to say, it’s never good to lie to or mislead a court in any way. But even if you’re not the kind of person to contemplate lying under oath, you might be tempted to just leave things out of your affidavit that don’t make you look good. Don’t, it amounts to the same thing: being misleading.
- Also don’t mislead your lawyer
It’s crucial that you are honest and upfront with your lawyer if you want them to create the most effective game plan for all the issues in your matter. Never try to hide information you feel may be damaging to your case, or attempt to conceal assets or artificially minimise your financial circumstances. It just doesn’t pay in the long run, and can ultimately hurt your case.
- Don’t mess up compliance with the Family Law Rules
Be careful also not to make yourself a sitting duck for a costs liability by not complying with all the Family Law Rules. “Conduct” includes the need to comply with the Family Law Rules such as the duty of disclosure. Failing to comply includes things like: not producing documents in accordance with the duty to disclose, not providing answers to specific questions served by the other party, and not admitting the truth of certain facts or the authenticity of certain documents when asked.
You also can’t just act like you didn’t know your delays or disruptions were causing someone to incur costs. Ignorance is no excuse.
- Don’t ignore interim orders
Think seriously about the potential penalties of doing so. If any interim orders become unworkable, discuss the issues with a family lawyer asap to try and resolve them.
- Don’t cause delays out of spite
Trying to make life harder for your ex will only end up coming back to bite you. If you are making the court process take longer than it should through your conduct, there may be consequences.
- Don’t try to hide money
Trying to shield assets from family court is a really bad idea. But another thing to watch is moving money out of accounts once a divorce action has started.
- Don’t wait around for your ‘big day’ in court
In fact, do your best to avoid that day. Settling out of court is always cheaper.
- Don’t embark on an adversarial process without considering your non-court options
Know that you don’t always ‘need’ a lawyer. Or if you do need a lawyer, it doesn’t always have to be about starting an all-out war, which is always more costly. Consider a collaborative lawyer and the collaborative divorce process (it’s our specialty so give us a call; your first consult is free).
You can read the above-mentioned judgment here.
Or, read more about financial abuse here.
Speak with us about your non-court options. For family law help, call Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.