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From 1 January 2020, Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ) has received Commonwealth funding to provide lawyer-assisted family law mediation and arbitration to resolve less complex property disputes for people not eligible for legal aid, or unable to afford legal representation. The pilot will be available for 2 years, and applies to separated, married and defacto couples.
The maximum net equity of disputed property is currently $400,000. Under the pilot, there is a minimum of $20,000 and up to a maximum of $500,000 excluding superannuation (with no limit on superannuation). The pilot will also include funding matters where the applicant's net claim is $250,000 excluding superannuation of a larger property dispute. For example, where there has been a short marriage.
Currently, only one party needs to be represented in LAQ property mediation (being the legally aided party). Under the pilot, both parties must be represented. The second party has the option of receiving legal aid (if eligible) or engaging a private lawyer.
As part of this new property program, grants of aid will be available for superannuation disclosure, valuations of real estate and medical reports which are necessary to resolve the issues in dispute.
When making an application, the existing assets test doesn't apply, but the current income test will continue to apply. Assistance from Legal Aid Queensland under the pilot is not free. The costs of providing this service are shared between the parties. If legally aided, that party’s share of the costs of the service will be imposed as a retrospective contribution (that is, at the end of the matter upon receiving a financial benefit). If privately represented, that party must contribute an upfront amount towards the costs of the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (mediator) and also contribute to agreed outlays for which a grant of aid is approved, such as valuations of real estate that the parties agree are necessary to resolve issues in dispute.
The pilot covers small, less complex property disputes, and exclusions relating to matters involving business or commercial ventures will still apply. Matters involving trusts or negative equity (debt) will also not be eligible under the pilot.
More information will be forthcoming, including a solicitor information guide for legal representatives which gives step by step information about the property program process.
For more information, visit the Legal Aid Queensland website.
LAQ has consistently been raising with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) that the funding allocated by the AGD for the operation of the Commonwealth Family Violence and Cross-Examination of Parties Scheme was insufficient to meet the likely demand for assistance under the scheme. The funding allocated to LAQ was based on research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies that estimated there would be 30 clients per annum who would be eligible for the scheme.
LAQ has committed the 2019/20 budget allocation under the scheme. LAQ is not in a position to allocate legal practitioners under the scheme at this time. Urgent submissions have been made to AGD about the pressing need for further funds to be allocated to the scheme.
LAQ is hopeful that additional funding will be forthcoming from the AGD to be able to continue operating the scheme, but until additional funding is committed by the Commonwealth LAQ is unable to allocate any further practitioners under the scheme at this time.
LAQ will still take receipt of notices of ban on cross-examination from the courts and will forward applications to the scheme to parties in those matters, but it will be made clear to parties that assistance under the scheme is subject to sufficient funding being available to LAQ under the scheme.
Please be reminded that all grants staff are required to maintain confidentiality of information. Please ensure that you do not request information that cannot be provided in accordance with legislative requirements or information privacy provisions. Specific examples include requesting information about whether an individual has applied for a grant of aid, or the status of another application not submitted by your firm.
The youth practitioner certification training has drawn to a close for 2019 after holding 19 sessions across Queensland. Thank you to everyone who has already attended the training. Legal Aid Queensland values your participation and feedback.
Due to the program’s popularity, LAQ will be hosting an additional session in Brisbane 2020. If you are not able to attend in Brisbane, this session will also be available as a webinar. A waiting list of those who missed out on the initial round of training has been compiled and correspondence will be sent out with further details once the session has been confirmed.
If you have not already contacted Project Officer Dylan Roberts and you would like to attend, please call (07) 3917 0335 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to office closures during the Christmas/New Year period, the last legal payment for this year will be on Tuesday, 24 December 2019.
All invoices due up to 6 January 2020 will be paid on this day. To be paid on the 24 December 2019, all invoices must be submitted by Friday 13 December 2019 for grants officers to assess accounts by Monday 23 December 2019.
The first payment run for 2020 will be on Tuesday, 7 January 2020.
All Legal Aid Queensland offices will be closed from 2pm on Tuesday 24 December 2019 and will reopen on Thursday 2 January 2020.