No solicitor fees when filing a divorce application form online
Getting a divorce is already difficult and stressful without becoming a long and drawn-out concern. Fortunately, organising a divorce application form has become more straightforward, which goes some way towards making this period a little easier to cope with.
This means the do-it-yourself with no solicitor fees approach has become more common as people seek to reduce expenses by avoiding divorce lawyer fees. One of the most common questions regarding the divorce process is: how much does a divorce cost?
While you can avoid a family lawyer’s fee, the DIY approach also has divorce fees and the risk of not having the support of a divorce lawyer. This may seem daunting for anyone facing financial difficulties. However, there are several ways to potentially receive a reduced fee or, in some cases, have it waived altogether. One such method is to claim financial hardship.
When applying for a Divorce
It is not uncommon for individuals undertaking a divorce application to be suffering financially. This relates to anyone struggling to meet their financial obligations. Women, in particular, are at risk of being in a vulnerable position, especially if they have been out of the workforce for a significant period and are relying on their spouse’s income.
A reduced filing fee can significantly help anyone whose circumstances make the divorce application process financially burdensome. So, how do you access a fee reduction?
How to Demonstrate financial hardship
Applicants seeking a reduced fee must demonstrate financial hardship by passing a three-part test assessing their financial position. The test is broken down into the following:
- Income test
- Assets test
- Day-to-day living expenses and liabilities test
The income test applies to your gross income, which may include the following:
- Employment income – wages, salary, and self-employment income;
- Employer-provided fringe benefits;
- Rental income;
- Reportable superannuation contributions (salary sacrifice);
- Centrelink pensions or benefits and some supplementary payments;
- Department of Veterans Affairs payments;
- Income from financial investments such as bank accounts, managed investments, and shares;
- Revenue from income stream products such as allocated pensions, annuities, and superannuation pensions;
- Foreign income;
- Private trusts and companies;
- New Enterprise Incentive Scheme;
- Paid Parental Leave;
- Lump sum payments such as redundancy, leave or termination payments.
The table below shows the maximum allowable fortnightly income based on the number of dependents you support.
The asset test applies to any liquid assets you own, such as cash, convertible shares, or bonds. Your total liquid assets must not exceed five times the relevant court fees to pass. The current divorce application form fee is $940, and a decree of nullity is $1,335.
Applying the calculation shows that your liquid assets must be less than:
- Divorce application: $4700 ($940 x 5)
- Decree of nullity: $6675 ($1335 x 5)
Day-to-day living expenses and liabilities test
Surplus income is your income net of tax minus all reasonable fortnightly day-to-day expenses and liability repayments. Reasonable expenses include things like groceries, rent or mortgage payments, payments for utilities and costs associated with a vehicle. The court must be satisfied that your surplus fortnightly income falls below a certain threshold.
Your fortnightly surplus income must not exceed the following:
- $470 for a divorce application
- $665 for a decree of nullity
Filing fees explained
Depending on your circumstances, several fees are associated with the divorce application form. Some may not require the total fee to be paid, while others may be avoided entirely.
Some of the new family court fees may be waived in the following circumstances (as per section 2.04 of the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012):
- The person has been granted legal aid under a legal aid scheme or service:
- Established under a law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory; or
- Approved by the Attorney‑General;
For the proceeding for which the fee would otherwise be payable;
- The person is the holder of any of the following cards issued by the Commonwealth:
- A health care card;
- A pensioner concession card;
- A Commonwealth seniors health card;
- Any other card that certifies the holder’s entitlement to Commonwealth health concessions;
- The person is serving a sentence of imprisonment or is otherwise detained in a public institution;
- The person is younger than 18;
- The person receives youth allowance or Austudy payments under the Social Security Act 1991 or benefits under the ABSTUDY Scheme.
The following is a list of fees you might expect to pay. Those marked with an asterisk may be exempted according to the criteria above:
The divorce application itself is not available for exemption. But, by proving financial hardship or possessing a relevant concession card, it may be reduced to $310.
Decree of Nullity–$1335
You may seek to have your marriage nullified through a decree of nullity if one or both parties were:
- Already married to other people;
- Underage and lacked the required approvals; or
- Were forced into the marriage against their will.
Similar to a divorce application, there is no exemption for this fee either. However, it may be reduced to $445 with a finding of financial hardship or a valid concession card.
Application for consent orders-$170*
When you and your spouse reach a mutual agreement about parenting or financial matters, you can apply for a consent order to have the agreement formally recognised by the court.
Initiating application for parenting or financial orders-$365*
When you and your former partner cannot agree on parenting or financial matters, you can apply to the court to decide. Filing a response to an initiating application attracts the same fee.
You may file an initiating application for parenting AND financial orders simultaneously for a discounted fee of $595.
When an urgent matter requires immediate action while the court is making its final orders, you can apply for interim orders to be put into place temporarily.
Setting down fee-$660 (Div 2), $900 (Div 1)*
If your case goes to trial, a setting down fee is payable for a trial date to be set, and this fee covers the first hearing day. The same hearing fee applies for every hearing day after the first.
Since the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court were combined into a single entity in 2021, two divisions are now in place, each with its own fee structure. Division 1 continues the responsibilities undertaken by the Family Court of Australia before amalgamation, and Division 2 continues the work of the Federal Circuit Court.
A conciliation conference is a mediation overseen by a court registrar to settle matters relating to parenting and finance. The court has a limited capacity for conciliation conferences. If specific criteria are not met, you may need to pursue private mediation outside the court.
If you are a sole applicant and need to serve divorce papers to your spouse, a process server can deliver them for a fee. As they are private operators, their rates may vary depending on the job required.
Certain government concession cards
Several government concession cards issued by the Department of Human Services make you eligible for an exemption from various family court fees. These include:
- Health care card;
- Pensioner concession card;
- Commonwealth seniors’ health card;
- Any other card issued by the Department of Human Services or the Department of Veterans Affairs certifying your entitlement to Commonwealth health concessions.
Professional legal assistance
If you are experiencing a divorce and feel comfortable approaching the whole process yourself, that is perfectly understandable. However, a family lawyer from a respected law firm like Shanahan Family Law saves you time and money, ensuring documentation is completed correctly and submitted on time. When submitting documents to the courts, they must be written and filed according to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. Legal advice relevant to your situation from a qualified legal practitioner can be the difference between losing more than your share of either child custody or the split of shared financials. Perhaps you’re negotiating a property settlement, parenting arrangements, or spousal maintenance with your former partner. We can make sure you are treated fairly. When you’re filing a sole or joint application for divorce and want to understand your options for reducing the application fee, we’re behind you.
Even without appearing at a divorce hearing, we can help you be prepared for all possible outcomes. At the time of writing this article, our fees are as follows:
- Preparing joint application: $660
- Preparing sole application: $1100
- Preparing sole application where the other party’s location is unknown: $1980
The above filing fees are current at the time of writing, May 2022. Court fees are typically reviewed at the end of each financial year. For further information on how we can assist you in getting a divorce order or any family law matters, get in touch for an initial discovery call.