Federal Government inquiry into The Family Court of Australia “The Abattoir”.

Reform of the Family Law Court.

The Family Court of Australia is where all of the vulnerable families in Australia end up as a result of separation. People entering this world are fragile and the last thing they need is more abuse or violence, and yet when they enter this world they are not aware of its culture or the inner workings of this sanctum. They do not realise that the practitioners in this world are only regulated by their own people and are not accountable to the normal laws of fair trade. They do not realise that the system is built upon adversarial principles where each side goes into battle, employing an unregulated partisan who is trained to win at all costs. To be fair to these professionals, they are quite often dealing with highly acrimonious situations and can only follow the instructions of their client using the skill set that they have learnt. There are two scenarios that can easily develop as we have two opposing sides in a disagreement, one or other of the clients may decide to be uncooperative in reaching an agreement or one or other of the clients hired professionals may act in a manner that inflames the dispute instead of dissolving it. The interests of all participants are precarious, that is the clients and the professionals who are acting for the clients, as self financial gain can become a motivator for continuing a dispute. This situation reminds of a story I was once told by a friend.

There was a farmer who was going through a divorce, he had gone to see his lawyer wand was sitting in his office. The lawyer had to attend to some business and left him in the office alone, The farmer spied a letter from his wife’s lawyer and happened to read it. It Said Two Fat Ducks, You Pluck One and I will pluck the Other!

The assets, any remaining human decency and the children of the marriage are all turned into bargaining chips. Any sense of love, caring and compassion that form relationships between humans are dissolved in an acrid environment of legal swill based upon who can perform the more believable of tricks in the presence of the court. Truth and transparency are manipulated by the professional partisans and any remnants of trust between the husband and the wife becomes dissolved by this toxic sewer of acrid discourse.

I have heard the Family Court of Australia referred to as “The Abattoir”. When I first became aware of the phrase I thought it was a bit harsh but as time has passed I have to agree, it is an accurate description, but unlike an abattoir it lacks efficiency and quality standards resulting in costly and damaging outcomes. An Abattoir is a place where live animals are instantaneously slaughtered and then dissected into their various cuts of meat in a clean environment where they are fit for consumption by the public.

The Federal Family Court “The Abattoir” slowly dismembers the family relationship through an arduous adversarial legal process that is designed to be inefficient.  It is performed in two stages.

The first stage is given the touchy feely name Mediation. The Slaughter

Unlike the abattoir, the slaughter is a slow drawn out process that involves many visits to the lawyers, a number of different hearings to obtain documents and information ordered by the court and the preparation of affidavits (Expensive stories that are written by lawyers in lawyer sanitised format for presentation to the court that are manipulated by the opposing barristers for each side). This is a process that leads to mediation or Alternative dispute resolution, it is where two people who are separating are bought together within the court process but outside of the court to sit down and come to an agreement about their affairs without it going to the formal and very expensive process of a trail. Unfortunately by this stage the two people who had a disagreement are now involved in a legal dispute, having now both invested about $30,000 each in writing affidavits, talking to their solicitor at $500 per hour, going to directions hearings and meeting with the “Barrister” $5,000 per day who does not even give you a cup of coffee. The financial and emotional investment makes it very difficult for them to come to a resolution and the only inhibitor becomes the sword of Damocles, the legal and further emotional costs of going to trail. On occasions there is no turning back as they cannot agree, more often than not because by this time they have gone to the lawyers who have a monopoly on settling family breakdown disagreements, not realising that it is in the interests of the legal profession to perpetuate a disagreement and escalate it into a legal dispute with their learned tools of acrimony.

Having now both invested about $30,000 each in writing affidavits, talking to their solicitor at $500 per hour, going to directions hearings and meeting with the “Barrister” $5,000 per day who does not even give you a cup of coffee there is no turning back.  This is the stage where the family are slaughtered.

Because their are no systems or benchmarks with regards to how the lawyers are running the game, because the two people are on opposing sides and the communication occurs between lawyers it becomes impossible for them to remove themselves and their children from this nightmare.

The second stage is the trail stage if mediation fails. The dismemberment of the family.

This is where the family, assets (The family home), children and possessions are dissected and consumed by the costs of the process which can cost between $100,000 to $300,000 depending on the level of acrimony more often than not perpetuated by either the family lawyers own self-interest who are employed to resolve the disagreement or by one or both of the participants who have lost all sense of reason and are encased in a futile, senseless battle of one up man-ship with each other .

The Family Law business is a system that is run by a monopoly that acts as a cartel across every jurisdiction in Australia. Despite being run under the banner of the Federal Court of Australia the practitioners involved in this feast of human misery are regulated under eight separate regulators that are connected to the legal professional associations who represent the interests of lawyers.

 It is a system where two people who have a disagreement; ie,” there is a fire in the house”, have to engage the services of this monopoly. A monopoly that is ill equipped and poorly educated in the skills required to care for a family in crisis.  As the family is falling apart one or the other person will at some time engage the services of a lawyer? At that first appointment the lawyer will discover the following, the value of the asset base and the number of children. From those two pieces of information the lawyer can estimate the value of the carcass and what benefits they can obtain from its dismemberment; this creates the opportunity for an arsonist to poor kerosene onto a smoldering fire that could have easily been extinguished.  If the value of the asset is high enough it may be advantageous to the lawyer to have a light bulb moment and suggest the implantation of a family violence order. There may be no violence occurring at this stage and it can be suggested that an advantage can be obtained by provoking an incident that can be interpreted by a not so well trained member of the constabulary as worthy of a family violence order. Once that order is granted the lawyer’s job as the arsonist has begun. The lawyer knows that each person cannot communicate directly with one another and the lawyer’s picnic can commence, the person who has the order against them will have to leave the family home and will be separated from the family. A great deal of resentment and anger will be created. The family violence orders are issued by the State Police Force and come under a different jurisdiction to the Federal Court which means the person who has the order issued against them now has to run two separate cases in two separate courts, doubling their legal costs and giving more of the family asset base to the lawyer monopoly. The fate of the family will become part of the spider’s web of the Australian legal system.  

Family Violence orders are an essential and necessary component in helping to protect people within families from family violence but when they exist in a system that has zero accountability because of the failure to implement quality control standards they can become problematic which leads to a breakdown in trust for the system.  

Family Violence Interim Intervention Orders

Kristy Sellars performance as voted number one by the public indicated that family violence is a major issue for Australians. Very sadly that that culture of violence is also perpetuated by the behavior of some of the practitioners within the family courts who are not disciplined effectively by the legal regulator for their behavior. Some what Ironic in fact disgraceful and hypocritical behavior by those politicians and senior lawyers and judges who have the ability and power to make an effective change to the system.

5.7.2 What police do if they cannot serve the intervention order If police cannot serve the FVIO, they forward to the court of issue: > Interim intervention orders (at least two days before the return date) > Final intervention orders (after five days from the date of issue) along with: > A Certificate of Inability to Serve > Action Advice Cover Sheet > Any application for substituted service. If police believe there is a means by which the documents to be served could be brought the attention of the person to be served without personal service, they should make an application for substituted service. In some cases substituted service will be effected by police. Police must notify the affected Family Member (AFM) and discuss alternate safety strategies, and assist if the AFM wants to make application for an interim intervention order. Police may make a further referral to enable support of the AFM through this process.

We are now to have a second enquiry into the Family Law System, a process that should have been initiated some thirty years ago and is still ongoing. The first enquiry has identified the process is too expensive, takes too long and creates unnecessary damage to the family unit.

In fact the current process should be scrapped and the adversarial lawyer monopoly should be dismantled. It desperately needs to be replaced by trained professionals who are skilled in conciliation and caring for the vulnerable family unit during this journey of separation, without putting them into this legal nightmare, unless all else has failed and the people involved are so stupid that they make a fully informed decision to go and dance with the devil. In most cases separating couples have no alternative but to use a lawyer and by then it is too late and they are sucked into this legal hell hole from which there is no return.

None of these enquiries is dealing with the root cause of the problem that is the performance of the legal regulator, its failure to discipline the bad lawyers and its failure to implement a culture of quality systems that enforce accountability throughout the court process.

There is no structured process for a separation, there are no benchmarks defining the costs, as a proportion of the asset base and the time limits for the process. You cannot get a quality control manual for the divorce process so as everyone involved in the process becomes informed on how to behave and who is accountable for each decision. It simply does not exist and yet 40% of Australian families go through this process and when it fails we have seen suicides, child murders, family murders and complete destruction of family units. The only body who is responsible for that failure is the legal industry as they are the industry who have the monopoly on this business and if they were to have a duty of care to the families of Australia this Separation Manual would exist and would be the rule book for the journey of marriage breakdown.

It comes as no surprise that this Quality Manual does not exist because it would create a culture whereby the legal professionals would become accountable for their actions because the procedures would be transparent and any errors would be easily identified by a regulator who could authorize a proscribed punishment for failure to observe the procedure.

When one analyses the number of complaints received by these self-regulating authorities of lawyers it is clear to see the majority of problems occur in the family law, wills and probates area, combined with the inevitable problems to do with overcharging. The impotence of the regulator that has failed year in year out to discipline the wayward professionals has allowed this catastrophe to continue. The resulting damage leads to a multitude of suicides, families who never communicate with one another, a life where the family members are left forever wounded and banished to everlasting poverty.

Refer to the terms of reference. h. any further avenues to improve the performance and monitoring of professionals involved in family law proceedings and the resolution of disputes, including agencies, family law practitioners, family law experts and report writers, the staff and judicial officers of the courts, and family dispute resolution practitioners;

Federal Government announces inquiry into family law and child support systems.

The inquiry will be run by former social services minister and long-serving Liberal MP Kevin Andrews. The Inquiry will be Co-Chaired by Pauline Hanson.

Neither the Chair or the Co-chair has experience in dealing with the introduction of quality systems into a large and fairly sophisticated operation, with the aim to provide a low cost, quality product in a timely manner and Kevin Andrews is a Lawyer, a person not trained in an environment where there are efficient systems in place that make the professionals working within the environment accountable for their actions.  

The inquiry will be run by former social services minister and long-serving Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.

Qualifications and occupation before entering Federal Parliament

  • BA (University of Melbourne)
  • LLM (Monash University)
  • LLB (University of Melbourne)
  • Research solicitor, Law Institute of Victoria 1980-81
  • Co-ordinator, Continuing Legal Education, Law Institute of Victoria 1981-83
  • Associate to the Hon. Sir James Gobbo (Ex Victorian Governor and Uncle of Lawyer X), Supreme Court of Victoria 1983-85
  • Barrister-at-law, Victoria 1985-91

A previous inquiry has been held into the Family Law System  in 2017.

Helen Rhoades

Helen was appointed as a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2017 to lead a review of the family law system. She is a co-ordinator with Professor Belinda Fehlberg and Professor John Tobin of the Melbourne Law School’s Family & Children’s Law Research Group.

Professor Helen Rhoades is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne Law School. She has published widely in the area of family and children’s law and is co-editor with Rosemary Sheehan and Nicky Stanley of Vulnerable Children and the Law (2012). She has conducted a number of major research projects in the field, including investigations of the process and effects of family law reform, the links between law and social practices, and the factors that support and inhibit inter-professional collaboration within the family law system. Professor Rhoades has a particular interest in policy issues affecting the delivery of services to vulnerable families. She is a past Chair of the Family Law Council (2010 to 2016), where she lead reviews of parentage law, improving the family law system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, and improving service delivery to families with complex needs. Helen was appointed as a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2017 to lead a review of the family law system. She is a co-ordinator with Professor Belinda Fehlberg and Professor John Tobin of the Melbourne Law School’s Family & Children’s Law Research Group.   

Honorary Appointment means a formal recognition of the relationship between the University and an. individual who has made or who is expected to make a notable contribution to the academic, professional. or cultural needs and achievements of the University. Honorary appointments are made as Charles Darwin

Sir Cecil Rohdes, not Professor Helen Rhoades?

Sir Cecil Rhodes

The way forward Quality control for lawyers

Quality Control for Lawyers

The current state of regulatory standards within the legal industry, with regards to the mechanisms it uses to manage family separation within Australia, should be a major concern for all people who reside in Australia. Fourty percent of marriages fail! The law and the legal profession have fallen behind the gallop of the advancement of community expectations with regards to accountability and the level of service. The current legislation pertaining to the accountability of legal practitioners, who are responsible for the management of the family separation process, is almost non-existent and is only accessible to the financially privileged. The expectations of the law and those employed to work it, by the current generation of consumers, has changed dramatically during the past twenty years. In general this generation of people are better educated, better informed, and have access to a far greater amount of information than any generation before. A large number of people within this community are being adversely affected by unscrupulous professionals whose main purpose is to make money for themselves from these family breakdowns. The laws pertaining to the lawyers who provide marriage breakdown services are formulated on the English classis principles of privilege. One is born into privilege or through some chance of fate one ascends to it, through one`s achievements in life. Obviously privilege, always having the upper hand in the decision making processes, assures its own perpetuation by setting the rules of membership to the club of privilege. To question privilege and to request accountability of it is to question the master with the cane. Fortunately through the advancement of our society, the master with the cane has been questioned in our education system and within our society the master is now accountable and he has lost his cane. If we believe that these changes are a good thing for our community, why have we not requested the legal profession and members of our court process, who are in a position of privilege and stem mostly from the privileged within our community, to be accountable for their actions?

Access to Justice Hearings Melboure. Melbourne 2014

This is an extract made by a human being at the Access to Justice Hearings way back in 2014 with regards to the poor quality of service by a law firm and the failure of the Victorian Legal Services Commission to diddly squat.

DR MUNDY:   Could you please state your name and the capacity in which you appear for the benefit of the transcript?

MR HUMAN:   Good Human, appearing in person.

DR MUNDY:   Could you make a brief opening statement, if you like, Mr Human?

MR HUMAN:   Yes, thank you.  Thanks to the commissioners for their time today.  Today, I also thank the participants here who have brought a strong community founded on principles of equity and equality, fairness and a fair go, merit and perhaps some merriment.  I think that description probably covers everyone except for lawyers.  I’m an Australian citizen, I’m a father of three children, married for 10 years, my wedding cost about $25,000.  I’m now separated and divorced, but the divorce cost about $250,000.  This scenario might be typical for a separating couple with some assets and some children, so I speak on behalf of people in that category.

         This cost is before adding the cost of losses of personal income, losses of business prospects, loss of employee productivity, and loss of momentum and personal energy associated with multiple mandated Court events post separation.  At best, the Productivity Commission already has some idea of the costs of legal events like divorce and marital separation, but perhaps not the full cost of the injustices of that process.  My desire is to address this forum today because legal events, legal suspense, and legal expense have all had a drastic effect on the effectiveness of my immediate community.

         Divorce, we already know, affects some 40 per cent of marriages.  The link I put today is that a system which drives productivity and ethical behaviour is one which comes with it the need for a complaints system, because we all know that not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done, and so come the rules of evidence.  To reframe, not only must justice be seen to be done; it must actually be done, and so come the courts with their justices followed by the lawyers with their injustices.  The complaints system we’ve now created is one where not only must injustice be done before it gets seen, it must be obscene before it gets undone, and so come the legal professional legislation and the legal services commissioners.

         I was attracted to this inquiry because of its main aim, or one of its aims:  to study the cost of accessing and securing legal representation for effecting effective access to the justice system, i.e., it shouldn’t be dependent on the capacity to pay.  It should be timely and affordable.  It should produce fair and equitable outcomes, and it should resolve disputes early and expeditiously at the most appropriate level.  Alternatively, we end up with a system which effectively excludes a sizeable proportion of society from adequate redress and risks considerable social and economic costs.  Now, I’ve borrowed that wording from the issues statement.

         My intention is to produce a written submission.  My apologies to the commissioners for not having done so yet, but you at least have in draft some synopsis of that.  A number of items which I may raise in the written form would speak to items 1.1, what is access to justice; 3.1, how much does it cost to resolve a dispute; 6.3, some reforms required; 10.4, how to improve tribunal performance; 11.5, discovery; 11.6, experts; 13.4, costs awards; 14.4, on the impacts of self‑represented litigants; and perhaps something on unbundling.  However, two main issue I would like to treat today are at 6.4 in relation to the complaints system.  I do so with a series of examples, so we don’t run foul of the Family Law Act in relation to specific cases.

         Sections 6 and 7 of the inquiry welcoming further comments in relation to the powers, structure and execution of the complaints handling in all jurisdictions.  As at last week, there were about 200-something submissions, but nothing in relation to this issue.  I understand you’ve received some things verbally in the last week or so, whereas the LCA claims to speak on behalf of 60,000 lawyers, I suggest perhaps their views ought to be well tempered against the public’s views.  Recently, in The Age newspaper, there was an article which raised the issue of dealing with the LSC, so I know that I’m not alone in the difficulties that presents. 

         Of some 20,000 respondents surveyed about their lawyer experiences, some 30 per cent who had an issue did not pursue their gripe.  17 per cent did what the lawyer wanted, 6 per cent pursued resolution through another body, and only 4 per cent through a complaint body such as LSC.  I’m introducing a series of examples.  The first one is a complaint made to the LSC, the LSC spends four weeks looking at this issue then writes to the complainant advising, “We note that you have decided to withdraw your complaint.”  The complainant itself said otherwise and the complainant, therefore, had to say the same thing twice.

         The second example is a conduct matter.  The client has terminated their solicitor’s services then asked for the client’s files.  There’s no money outstanding, so the solicitor gives the client some, but not all of the documents.  The LSC dismisses the matter on the basis that the solicitor said all files had been provided.  The third example is a conduct matter where a solicitor who was sacked retained the client’s personal items.  The LSC said this was not a disciplinary matter and dismissed it.  Common law and common sense says otherwise.

         The fourth example is a conduct matter.  A solicitor refused to bill the client.  The LSC said they could not force the practitioner to provide bills.  The LSC then classified it as a cost matter only, did not consider this to be a disciplinary matter, and dismissed it.  The LPA says otherwise.  The fifth example is a billing matter for work not completed.  The LSC requires the client to pay money in, but then negotiates a middle position which includes a gag order, or gag agreement.  Surprise, surprise, no further details available on this one.

         The sixth example is a practitioner commencing legal action while the LSC was still investigating, reasonably well-covered by the LPA, but the LSC took no interest.  We heard from the LIV yesterday and they reported various statistics in relation to Australia wide, 1 to 3 complaints per 1000 and, in relation to Victoria, .8 to 2.2 complaints per thousand.  That came from the LSC Vic’s reports, which are included, I think, in the final version of the draft final report.  What the LSC reports between the lines of the fine print is that it discourages complainants from maintaining their complaints, or aids the solicitors to disguise their unprofessional behaviours without recording complaint statistics against them.

         I put a couple of rhetorical questions to the examples I’ve given.  To the example where the LSC had written to the complainant saying, “We note you’ve decided to withdraw your complaint,” does this identify the capacity that the LSC has to deal with a complaint by not even categorising it as one and by saying something to what the complainant’s actually put?  What does it say for the ability to investigate a more substantial complaint?  For the second example, where a client terminated their services, has received some documents but not all, if your investigation consisted of reading the complainant’s statement that they had not received all their documents and then reading a reply from the solicitor that the client “has received all files that they are entitled to”, then writing to the client to say “we believe the practitioner”, how appropriate is that?  If you’re going to sweep it under someone else’s carpet, why not give the client the right to let VCAT sort it out?

         The third example, where the solicitor has retained the client’s personal items:  is this or is this not unprofessional conduct?  If it’s not covered by the rules, then the rules need some amendment because certainly the man on the street would suggest that was unprofessional not to receive back from the solicitor their stuff at the end of a matter.

         To the fourth example where the LSC said they could not force the practitioner to produce bills that may, in fact, be technically, in the eyes of the current regulations, correct.  Very strange, but perhaps correct.  There was a case in 1999 in the Victorian Supreme Court, I think, where the magistrate noted that there was no definition in the Act of the word “bill”.  That’s in the 1996 Act.  We’ve since had a 2004 Act and now a 2014 Act, and we still have no definition of the word “bill”.  So why do we need to go to VCAT to litigate the question of whether there’s been a bill provided or not at the client’s expense. 

         The sixth example was VCAT heard a matter in relation to moneys owing in the middle of the LSC conducting an investigation.  The LSC being made aware of this -it is prohibited by the Act – the LSC took no action.  So, in summary, if our families and our communities are putting their trust in the legal profession to act professionally in our best interests then we ought to have a level of confidence in the upholding of these professional standards.  If the above examples are occurring – and they are – then we have a potent combination of the incompetence, bias and dare I say it – it was mentioned yesterday – corruption within the office of the LSC.  None of those ingredients gives us the confidence that community demands. 

         I’ve got further examples in relation to the new Legal Profession Act and the powers of the LSC, also comments on that in relation to billing issues, a further example in relation to family law on court delays costing the client some $50,000 potentially where the matter wasn’t even heard and some minor comments which, depending on whether time permits today, in relation to unrepresented litigants in a family law sense, and unbundling of services for professions such as accountants and engineers.  So any questions?

MS MacRAE:   I guess at first instance are there some things, obvious or not, that you think need to happen in relation to the powers that the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner has and are there particular characteristics of regular legal professionals that you think that the LSC doesn’t have?

MR HUMAN:   In relation to the powers of the LSC, not much of this is new for the 2014 version of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Act, however if we were to name some of the relevant powers that the LSC has in relation to complaints, section 277 suggests it may close the complaint without further consideration of its merits and that is a discretionary provision.  It may also – within that provision, if it forms the view that the complaint requires no further investigation, also discretionary.  At sub‑section 3 a complaint may be closed under this section without any investigation or without completing an investigation, also discretionary.

         At section 282 the power to investigate complaints is written as follows:  “The designated local regulatory authority may investigate the whole or part of a complaint.”  It doesn’t say it must.  Similarly, at 299, “The designated regulatory authority may in relation to a disciplinary matter find that the respondent lawyer or legal practitioner has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct.”  It may, or it may not.  “If it determines a disciplinary matter under this section no further action is to be taken under this chapter in relation to disciplinary complaints,” therefore that is also a discretionary element and the buck stops with the LSC.  Perhaps in that case, no longer being transferred to VCAT.

         So I think all of those issues summed up, whilst the provisions might on the face of it be for good reason, to prevent some of the vexatious and unfounded complaints, if the examples I’ve described are sufficient to suggest otherwise then this is potentially behaviour that’s occurring within the LSC environment and I understand there was a report written in 2009 by the Victorian ombudsman and that there were significant behaviours and cultural elements which the incoming Legal Services Commissioner for Victoria had to deal with.  To the extent that he has been able to deal with that, I commend him however it seems there’s more work to be done if these examples can be used as appropriate. 

MS MacRAE:   Was there something particular that prompted that ombudsman’s report in 2009?

MR HUMAN:   Yes, it was the fact that – and I don’t have all the details in front of me on that one – but it was the fact that there were some 90 something complaints to the ombudsman about the Office of Legal Services Commissioner’s activity in – must have been – 2008. 

MS MacRAE:   Are you aware of any or the extent of complaints since that time to the ombudsman? 

MR HUMAN:   I’m not.  At the ombudsman’s level, you mean?

MS MacRAE:   Mm.

MR HUMAN:   No, I’m not.  However, this statistic that I mentioned before where we’ve got less complaints being carried through to resolution in Victoria and more withdrawals of complaint, does suggest to me that complainants are actually being encouraged to withdraw their complaints, some which may be meritorious and such as my example where they’ve written to the complainant saying “we note that you withdrew your complaint” without even having a discussion as to whether they wanted to withdraw it or not, and I think that’s problematic.

DR MUNDY:   With the greatest respect to that example, that could be nothing more than an administrative error.  These things happen.

MR HUMAN:   I appreciate your comment and ‑ ‑ ‑

DR MUNDY:   Can I just finish my question, if you may?

MR HUMAN:   Yes.

DR MUNDY:   What evidence is it that you have that sort of behaviour is systematic with exception to – is this an example of similar types of letters or is it just a one off?

MR HUMAN:   In that particular case it’s a one off, however it is a process whereby the case officer has referred it to a second person and it is the second person who’s then issued the letter.  So that means it’s gone through two hands.  If a complaint, you assume – the complainer’s made the effort to make a complaint – you assume that the very least the LSC would do would be to identify the merit of it and if it is intending on dismissing it or asking a complainant to withdraw it, that there’d be an actual proper basis for that request. 

DR MUNDY:   That doesn’t alter the fact that it may have been an administrative error.  But I guess I’m more interested in the – I mean, I guess part of the story is – and you’ve obviously looked at a lot of this correspondence; when the Commissioner dismissed a complaint, decides not to proceed or whatever, are reasons given for that decision?

MR HUMAN:   In not all cases.

DR MUNDY:   Does the statute require them to give reasons for ‑ ‑ ‑

MR HUMAN:   My understanding is it does, yes.

DR MUNDY:   What ‑ ‑ ‑

MR HUMAN:   Sorry, if I can just add to that, of the matters that have been dismissed in my examples, the reason given is that it is not – I’ll just see if I can find the actual provision.  Here we go.  Yes, so in those cases, the LSCs dismissed them under section 4210(1)(f)(ii), which is that there’s no further need for investigation.

DR MUNDY:   So it is not a jurisdictional question, it is not, “I cannot look at this.”  It is, “There is no basis upon which” – that is the provision that enables the Commissioner to form a view that the Commissioner does not, as a matter of habit or policy or practice, say, “There is no need to consider this matter because” – he just cites the provision and – so there is no reasons given other than citing the provision?

MR HUMAN:   It seems to be the common practice that the LSC will restate the position of the complainant, then state the position of the practitioner.  It may not be in that same correspondence, and it then will form a view, which I would suggest is a biased view, in favour of the practitioner that, given that there is a difference opinion, “We’ll take the opinion of the practitioner.”  It sort of begs the question:  what is this complaints process for?  If we have identified a dispute based on two ends of the same stick, we have got to get something that is on the same stick.  If we are saying, “He said, she said, they said.  We’re not interested in what the complainant’s got to say,” what benefit is that to the community?

DR MUNDY:   I am interested in sound administrative and just processes and, certainly, within Commonwealth law, a decision maker who makes a decision of an administrative character, which this may or may not be – but let us assume it is for the time being – there is a general obligation in the Commonwealth jurisdiction that a person unhappy about that decision may seek a statement as to why the decision was made.

MR HUMAN:   Without knowing the provision, I think that exists within it.

DR MUNDY:   I am just coming from your evidence.  If that provision was – I do not want to put words in your mouth, but let me put it this way because I am mindful of the time.  Your expectation would be that, if asked to provide an explanation of the decision, the likely outcome in your view would be restating of the complaint, a restating of the service provider’s response, and the Commissioner basically then saying, “There is no need to proceed,” without providing what might be seen as an explanation of the reasons?

MR HUMAN:   That is right.  Further to that, I will note that the Commissioner does have powers to refer the matter to a mediation and in the examples given, as I’ve said before, if we’ve identified a dispute that consists of two parties being some distance apart ‑ ‑ ‑

DR MUNDY:   The facts are not clear.

MR HUMAN:   The facts can be clarified by that mediation process and, in any case, if it’s outcome focussed, we could still get to the same point.  If it’s the fact that ‑ in the example where the client’s file wasn’t provided, well, “You say it’s not provided.  You say you provided it.  What did you provide?”  Has any of that discussion occurred?

DR MUNDY:   And presumably the remedy is “hand the file over now”.

MR HUMAN:   Exactly.

DR MUNDY:   Do you have any sense, given, as you suggest, the Act contains provisions for mediation, are those provisions – do they empower the Commissioner to order mediation, or is it ‑ ‑ ‑

MR HUMAN:   I believe they do.

DR MUNDY:   It is not simply at the consent of the parties?

MR HUMAN:   I am not sure on that.  It may be with the consent of the parties, but if one party were to say, “How about mediation?” if the practitioner were then to say, “We’re not interested,” the expectation, I guess, would be that the LSC would then form a view that it would have been appropriate and there is a reason why the practitioner is not interested. 

DR MUNDY:   The sense I get from what you are saying is that, despite this mediation route being available to the Commissioner, there is not a lot of evidence to suggest that it is used.

MR HUMAN:   It is not being suggested up front, that’s for sure, and when it’s being suggested by the complainant, who’s obviously got to go and do the research and work out, well, what are the avenues if we’re hitting brick wall after brick wall, to suggest to the LSC, “How about mediation, seeings how we’ve got a dispute,” by definition.  The LSC wouldn’t then follow that through.

DR MUNDY:   When I go to make a complaint at the LSC, do I get any sense from the LSC – and I know that other complaint resolution systems and, indeed, ombudsman – and I notice there is one in the room – will often say, “Here are the avenues in which this complaint – here is how it may proceed.  These are the sort of steps that may be taken.”  That is not something you get from the LSC?

MR HUMAN:   No.

DR MUNDY:   It is essentially a black box?

MR HUMAN:   Yes, it’s a black box.  You give us your complaint.  We will stir it around in the black box and then, after a period of time, we will form the view that it is not a matter for further investigation and we will dismiss it under 4210(1)(f)(ii). 

MS MacRAE:   One of the other people we have seen in earlier proceedings – I think it was in South Australia – talked to us about the complaint handling there and was concerned that, at every turn, he had to put things in writing and there was no attempt to contact him in any other way and if he tried to contact the complaint body, he was told to put his concerns in writing and was not able to contact the complaint handling body directly.  As far as you know – – –

MR HUMAN:   I don’t see that as an issue here in Victoria, however, I see the opposite side of that, which is, if you allow the LSC to engage you by telephone, you will then have words put into your mouth as what you said or didn’t say.  In the light of these experiences, it’s actually preferable to deal only in writing with the LSC.  However, even with the examples where that’s been the case and the full paper trail exists, we’re still getting, “We note that you’ve decided to withdraw your complaint.”  That’s taking the facts and totally ignoring them.

MS MacRAE:   Are the provisions that you are speaking to now – have they basically been picked up and will be re-produced in the uniform law, or is there ‑ ‑ ‑

MR HUMAN:   Most of them.  There is some re-wording, but most of the provisions are very similar to the current Victorian scheme.  My understanding is Victoria actually put most of the work into that in writing of it.  That is as much as I know on that fact.

DR MUNDY:   Mr Human, cutting to the chase:  where are the policy remedies in this?  Is it that the underlying statutory framework is defective?  Is it that the institutional – and we more than most people understand that regulation is both about the law and those who administer it.  I, for one, have done a lot of work in this space.  Is it your view that the real problem here is the conduct provisions under the uniform professions legislation?  Is it that there are – reflecting on the ombudsman ‑ institutional – the Commission has an institutional character which is such that it is not meeting the expectation of aggrieved consumers of legal services, or is it a third option, in that the appellate processes against decisions of the LSC are, in some sense, defective, or expensive, or not well enough known so that people who have a grievance – and let us accept that even with the best will in the world, mistakes do get made – that people do not have an adequate course to get those grievances addressed?

MR HUMAN:   If I can respond to the third one first, in relation to the appellate process.  It would have to be said that it’s quite hazy as to what that process is.  Having been through a complaints process with the LSC, a complainant might expect to see at the end of it, “If you don’t like our decision, you can go to the Vic Ombudsman.”  That’s lovely advice and I’m sure that’s where those other 90 complainants went to in 2009.  Let’s assume something is working there, but it’s a slow process and it’s certainly difficult for your average complainant to want to navigate that.

DR MUNDY:   And it’s not a determinative process.

MR HUMAN:   Exactly, yes.

DR MUNDY:   The ombudsman won’t typically be able to make orders in regard to that.

MR HUMAN:   And I can attest to the example where the LSC has suggested to the complainant, “Well, you can talk to the Vic Ombudsman, but we actually don’t listen to them because they don’t outrank us,” effectively.  Okay.  Our determination is final and, yes, sure, we might let them whisper in our ear occasionally, but it’s certainly not the case that it is an appeal process.  As for the regulations, well, we mentioned before that most of these regulations are, you could assume, reasonably well drafted in the public interest, however, with all of the discretionary provisions at the LSC level, it does certainly provide a considerable power base in the office of the LSC.

         So the concern then is to your second point, which is, who is policing the policemen.  That was the nature of the article in The Age newspaper last month was, “We don’t have anyone policing that policeman.”  So if we’re expecting as a community that the legal services industry is a profession, then we are expecting it to have in a similar way to the accounting conduct rules, engineering rules, medical practitioner’s rules, we are expecting it to have some form of code of ethics and some form of compliance and measurement against that code of ethics.  If the best example we have in the legal profession is the office of the LSC, then there is definitely more work to be done.

DR MUNDY:   All right.  Look, we’re probably out of time, but thank you very much.  We look forward to receiving your submission and thanks for taking the time to be with us today.

MR HUMAN:   Thank you.  Have a safe journey.

Collaboration Collaborative Practice began in earnest in Australia in 2005. There are an increasing number of International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) members and collaborative practice groups throughout the country. You can find contact details in our resources pages.

Also known as collaborative divorce, the process requires all parties, the couple and the representative lawyers, to sign an agreement at the outset to agree arrangements for children and reach a property settlement out of court, and within a set time frame.

The couple may also engage the services of a financial expert, counselors and possibly a child specialist to represent the needs of themselves and/or their children, either jointly, or as separate adviser to each party.

In the collaborative process, divorcing couples, along with their lawyers and other neutral professionals such as the finance, business or taxation advisers always meet together.

All of the information is presented to all parties, to resolve negotiations around co-parenting, financial support, division of assets, debts and superannuation, realigning of business interests and any other issues which may arise.

Legal privilege between client and lawyer is forfeited as there is full disclosure of facts and information to the other side.

Children’s needs are given priority. Face-to-face meetings with you, your spouse and all relevant professional adivsors present make negotiations direct and efficient, eliminating much of the written communication.

If successful, this process can be less stressful, less costly and reach a more satisfactory resolution far more quickly than litigation and no one has to go to court to agree a settlement.

The decisions regarding the important issues in the divorce are made jointly between you and your spouse with the needs of both of you and any children fully considered. The agreement is drawn up into a draft agreement which is then ratified by the family court as an order or drawn up by your lawyer in to a legally binding agreement.

Collaborative practice has a very high rate of success in reaching settlement. If the collaborative attempt is unsuccessful, and the couple decide to proceed through the court process, previous offers, negotiations and disclosures are no longer admissible in the case and each party must start the entire process anew with different legal representation.  

Most of us have no idea where to start.

On top of the emotional trauma, you have decisions to make. Decisions that could impact the rest of your life. Do you want to get information and make a start on the inevitable; just to feel like you have some control? Do you know where to start?

You’ve probably already been told by someone who cares about you to get a good lawyer.

A lawyer could be the last person you need!

Now, we’re not saying you won’t need a lawyer but seriously, they could just be the last person you engage. You’ll certainly benefit from consulting a lawyer to ensure any agreement you come to is legally binding. But before you get to that stage, you may better benefit from the advice of a collaboratively trained neutral financial advisor, tax specialist, counsellor, child specialist or even a divorce coach.

Any professional you engage to assist you is going to need a snapshot of your personal, family and financial life before they can offer you advice specific to your circumstances.

Your option is to sit with them while they charge you by the hour to go through the discovery process, or to prepare all the information they need before you ask for professional advice.

What do advisers need and where do you find it?

Some statistics on the Family Court.

The changes come after a PwC report found a wide gap in efficiency levels between the existing courts. It said Federal Circuit Court judges finalised about 338 cases a year, while Family Court judges finalised 114, and Family Court appeal judges wrote an average of 26 judgments each. It found litigants in the Family Court spent about $110,000 per case compared with $30,000 in the Federal Circuit Court.

According to the report, the median time to trial in the Family Court has blown out to 17 months, up from 11.5 months five years ago, while the median time to trial in the Federal Circuit Court had increased to 15.2 months, up from 10.8 months. Some litigants are waiting up to three years to resolve their disputes.

The problem of quality control does not only exist with The lawyers, the police, the process of the court but also with the experts who are paid to assess the condition of the children within the families who are being processed by the court.

Family Court expert referred to Medical Council after parents lodge complaints

Exclusive by the Specialist Reporting Team’s Emily Clark with additional reporting by Heidi Davoren

Updated 4 Sep 2018, 8:00am

A child playing with toys.

PHOTO: As part of family law matters, children and their parents are often assessed by practitioners who prepare a report for the judge. (ABC News: Natasha Johnson)

RELATED STORY: Sweeping changes to family court announced as broader review of strained system continues

RELATED STORY: Domestic violence offenders no longer allowed to question victims in Family Court

They’ve been described as the “gods of the court” — the report writers whose written assessments can affect the Family Court’s decision on which parent gets custody of their children.

Key points:

  • Practitioner who performs expert witness work in family court under inquiry
  • Parents lodged series of complaints with health regulators
  • Family Court says private report writers “not compelled to comply” with its standards

For parents who say the report writer got it wrong, the choice is stark: pursue the legal “fight of your life” to overturn the report or accept losing custody of your kids.

Family report writers are usually social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists.

Now, a group of parents has banded together to launch a challenge against one report writer in New South Wales, alleging his practices “place the public at risk”.

The group has accused him of a string of failures including “grossly inaccurate and incomplete” recording of interviews, “misdiagnosis”, and that he “applies unscientific theory”, particularly in response to allegations of child abuse and family violence.

Their campaign has resulted in the alleged problem practitioner being referred to the Medical Council of New South Wales, a body that has the ability to suspend the practitioner’s registration if it believes the public is at an immediate risk.

One member of the group has told the ABC the work of the report writer had caused “irreversible damage” to their family.

“Our lives are certainly never going to be the same again and I feel open disgust for a system that tolerates somebody who is so obviously acting outside the law and outside his expertise,” Kellie* said.

“If a report is wrong and the court relies on it, it destroys lives, particularly the children’s.”

The group of parents hope their action will bring renewed scrutiny to the regulation of Family Court report writers, who critics say can operate “beyond the rule of law”.

“We certainly see it as a milestone shift in the regulator’s position because they’ve held the wrong position for years that these [practitioners] engaged by the court are beyond the reach of regulation and in a sense, beyond the rule of law,” Kellie said.

One Sydney-based psychologist with more than 30 years’ experience told the ABC he saw the work of the alleged problem practitioner after several parents came to him seeking a second opinion.

The psychologist, who did not want to be named, said on several occasions he prepared secondary reports that were submitted to court.

“The work I’ve seen has had dramatic effects upon the parents involved and I reached different conclusions, very different conclusions,” he said.

“It’s questionable that someone should diagnose a personality disorder based on a few interviews only, particularly in an acrimonious situation.

“The difficulty is judicial or legal decisions are made on that where people may lose custody of their children when there may be very little basis for that.”

Do you know more about this story? Email Specialist.Team@abc.net.au

Family report writers known as ‘gods of the court’

The type of practitioner at the centre of the group’s complaints is referred to by the court as a single expert witness, and by the legal community as a family report writer.

They work either internally as employees of the court or as external contractors. Those employed by the courts are referred to as family consultants.

How a mother went into hiding

How a mother went into hiding


A mother and her children went on the run, avoiding police for three years. For the first time she tells the story of how she did it, and how she was caught.

In family law matters, report writers meet with families, make an assessment of issues within the case and prepare a report of recommendations for judges to consider when deciding the best arrangement for children involved in custody battles.

Concerns about these practitioners go beyond one case and extend to the lack of governance over the entire process of report writing.

In an overburdened court system, barristers and lawyers have told the ABC the recommendations in expert reports can be heavily considered in deliberations.

One parent advocate told the ABC challenging a family report, or “counteracting the gods of the court”, would be “the fight of your life”.

Similar comments were made in submissions to last year’s parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s family law system.

In December, that inquiry handed down its report and recommended “abolishing private family consultants” as well as establishing a “national accreditation system” that included a “complaints mechanism for parties when family consultants do not meet the required professional standards”.

Private report writers ‘not compelled to comply’ with standards

The practitioner at the centre of the recent complaints is a private family report writer, or, a single expert witness. Currently, there is no accreditation for conducting this kind of work.

Family report writers do not need to have clinical experience, and while specialised training in dealing with violence and abuse allegations is encouraged in a set of guidelines, it is not compulsory.

The Family Court of Australia said an accreditation system for internal family consultants “would be unnecessary” as that work is already the responsibility of the courts.

In a submission to the current Australian Law Reform Review, Family Court Chief Justice John Pascoe said:

“An accreditation scheme which allows parties to ascertain that a private report writer has acquired and maintained the required competencies and works to a high standard could greatly assist both litigants and the court to which the report would be submitted.”

The courts that hear family law matters — currently, the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Western Australia — developed the Australian Standards of Practice of Family Assessments and Reporting.

The court said “these standards are an outline of what the court considers to be good practice” and private report writers were “not compelled to comply”.

Courts give report writers ‘monopoly position’

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the Federal Government’s legislation to reform the courts would streamline administrative issues, focusing on costs to litigants, delays and the skill level of those working in the system.

“Largely a regulatory regime would be for government, but equally there is a massive ability through the rules of court to ensure there are certain standards that have to be met by experts and that is a process which has to be designed in the court,” he said.

Australia’s federal courts:

  • High Court of Australia
  • Federal Court of Australia
  • Supreme Court
  • Family Court of Australia
  • Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Family law matters are dealt with in the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) as well as the Family Court of Western Australia.

“At the moment you’ve got two different courts with two different sets of rules dealing with essentially the same matters which has proven to be a great failure.”

Mr Porter said the planned amalgamation of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court would help, “ensure that costs of experts of a variety of types are kept to a minimum”.

In some judgements, parents are ordered to pay several thousand dollars each for a single report.

In some cases, judges name the private family report writer parents who must engage in interim court orders, but there is no regulation for what that practitioner can charge.

Federal Liberal MP Craig Kelly has campaigned for regulation of these practitioners, particularly their fee structure.

“They should be given a list of people they can go to to get this done,” Mr Kelly said.

“To allocate it to one person where one person is given basically a monopoly position where they can charge whatever they want is against every principle of justice, of fairness and equity and every economic principle we abide by,” he said.

Parents turn to health regulators

The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court have a complaints process for report writers employed internally.

After hitting dead ends with the courts when trying to complain about private practitioners, both Kellie* and another advocate who spoke to the ABC had some success complaining to the relevant health authorities.

In NSW, the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), the Medical Council, and the national health regulator, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), govern registered health practitioners together under what’s referred to as a co-regulatory arrangement.

In this case, the HCCC received the parents’ complaints and decided to refer them to the Medical Council.

In one response to the group, the HCCC said there were, “concerns about the conduct” of the practitioner, “in relation to his use of particular clinical theories and his interview techniques” and that it was a, “broader issue of conduct outside of a specific family law case”.

The HCCC confirmed to the ABC it had received “a number of different types of complaints” about the practitioner.

https://www.abc.net.au/cm/lb/10128750/data/hccc-review-decision-data.jpg

The Medical Council does not have the power to investigate the claims, but can conduct inquiries and suspend a practitioner if there is an immediate risk to the public.

If it decides a full investigation is required, the complaints will be batted back to the HCCC and the public may be consulted.

The Medical Council told the ABC national law, “makes it an offence to disclose information about complaints” it receives, but each would be, “considered according to its facts”.

In May last year, the Federal Government directed the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct a “comprehensive review” into the family law system. That inquiry is due to deliver its report to the Attorney-General in March 2019.

Mr Porter said if that inquiry returned recommendations about regulation of family report writers, the Government would take them “very seriously”.

‘The public doesn’t know how bad this is’

A former president of the Clinical Psychologists Association of Australia and a psychology clinic director at the University of Sydney, Judy Hyde, said the level of training family report writers were required to have was “scary”.

“The public doesn’t know how bad this is,” she said.

The players:

  • Judges/Magistrates
  • Barristers
  • Counsels
  • Independent Children’s Lawyers
  • Litigants (usually parents)
  • Children
  • Expert witnesses, particularly family report writers

“This is terrible because what they’re saying is, we’re prepared to have people with unaccredited training undertake assessments of very complex, specialised, difficult cases where people’s lives are based on the decisions that are made for them.

“For the rest of their lives it will have an impact.”

Ms Hyde made the point that other types of assessments have registers of approved suppliers.

“WorkCover requires you to have accredited training for WorkCover … that should be the same at least for the children that we’re trying to deal with and help manage their lives going forward,” she said.

Ms Hyde acknowledged family law was a difficult area of practice for assessors.

“There are complaints made by people who haven’t got what they wanted, but the fact is people are very poorly trained to actually manage these assessments anyway and the lives of our children are put at risk,” she said.

*Kellie’s name has been changed.

Legal practitioners openly stated that they knew which family report writers to go to if they were representing a perpetrator. Said one: “When I worked in private practice we would look for report writers who don’t do that level of investigation, who don’t report on the violence because that was in our client’s [the perpetrator’s] interest.”

This is the evidence. This is the rot at the core of our family law system. Yes, many fathers have a terrible time in the family law system. There is no excuse for an innocent man being deprived access to his children. But there is a pyramid of harm.

First and foremost, we need to make this a system that is safe for children. An inquiry deputy-chaired by Pauline Hanson – who seems driven by a personal need for vengeance on behalf of her son – is almost certainly not going to achieve the changes children so urgently need.

From The Aussie Blokes Guide To Divorce.

Introduction

I’ve written this web site to explain to blokes who have recently separated a bit about the system that they are about to enter. I’ve just been through The Family Court. The Family Court and a lot of the government services around it are grossly inefficient systems that are madly biased towards the female partner. If you have an AVO or worse a criminal charge for stalk/intimidate you’ll find that the bias is overwhelming. It can seem grossly unfair but a simple AVO (and you can get one for swearing at your ex partner over the phone) can be used as a highly effective tool to stop you being a part of your children’s lives. Forever. If your ex has a nasty streak/borderline personality disorder the AVO may only be the start of a campaign that she launches against you but it’s a bloody good start. An angry woman who is a capable liar can cause a lot of damage to a well-intentioned father, and she will have the blind backing of a lot of government funded services.

The Family Court and a lot of the government backed services involved in family separation deal with a high rate of domestic violence, most of it genuine. However, in my experience these services, practically speaking, facilitate opportunistic partners making false complaints. I never once came across any service that had checks and balances to see if the complainant was genuine. There’s most certainly no punishment given to those complainants found to be lying. In my case a child protection service called Jannawi actively tried to place a false memory in my daughters minds by asking the if I had “touched them inappropriately”. At the time they were 5 & 6 years old. Nothing came of that. FACS became involved, they investigated, found that nothing had happened between me and my children. FACS did NOT investigate my claims against Jannawi. This had no impact on my ex partner’s claim that I had also been a perpetrator of DV. The suggestion that I had diddled my own daughters was dismissed but the suggestion that I had been a perpetrator of DV remained intact despite that FACS had established that my ex was a liar.

If you build a system that with no safeguards to prevent false complaints of DV or sexual misconduct with your own children some people are going to take advantage of that system to better their position in a divorce settlement.

If there are no punitive measures for those who are caught lying about DV or sexually inappropriate behaviour then even more people will take advantage of that opportunity. Those making the complaints have, in my experience, nothing to lose. When you’re selling the family home there’s nothing like withholding access to a man’s children to help you negotiate a bigger piece of the pie.

A word about lawyers…

Don’t trust the bastards.

It’s very competitive between lawyers at the moment. There’s too many lawyers and not enough work. Lawyers are professional liars. They’ll lie to you to extract money from you. They can and often do pour fuel on the flames of your divorce so they can charge you more to put the fire out.

I used no fewer than seven legal professionals during my Family Court/Criminal fight. I would recommend just one of those people to a friend who wanted advice.

I was in the Family Court waiting to see the judge with a lawyer who had just started on my case, when she asked me “Who is the Independent Children’s Lawyer for this case?” and “what are the court orders?”

I told her the name of the ICL, reminded her that we had no orders, hence the reason that we were in court, and reminded her that my name was Mr Ex.

I was paying $495 per hour for that service.

At the conclusion of my criminal trial in the district court when I got a Section 10, I had my conviction “Not Recorded.” I was elated that finally something had gone my way.

Whilst we waited for the elevator to exit the building, my lawyer leaned in towards me and said, “That took longer than expected, that’ll be another $1200” Regrettably, I paid him. I’m sure that I could have reported him to The NSW Law Society for that sort of conduct.  

He was, however, the one lawyer that had a plan that worked.

The reason that he, my criminal lawyer, was the only one with a plan that worked would be that, as a general rule, the Family Court gives the children to the mother. I didn’t work that out until the battle was almost over.

The mother would have to be injecting them with meth more than three times a week with dirty needles for them to give the kids to the father.  No Family Lawyer is going to tell you that before you hire them.

Most lawyers allow you a free 30-minute consultation before you sign up. Try 20 of them. Don’t tell them that you’re seeing 19 others. You’ll soon sort the wheat from the chaff.

Ask penetrating questions like “How will the expert go about valuing my company?” This helps if you own a company. Take in your tax return. If they can’t give you a specific answer they don’t deserve your money.

FYI: In my case, to value my company, the valuer took my last tax return and added my last annual profit/loss to the figure in the tax return for “Plant and Machinery” to get a total company value.

The amount recorded for “Plant and Machinery” represented the 5000 trips to Bunnings I had completed when renovating my business premises years previously. It had nothing to do with my business’s market value or my business’s asset base, unless you count the paint and screws I purchased from Bunnings years earlier. The valuer admitted as much in his report, suggesting that we should perhaps get an independent valuer to count and value my actual Plant and Machinery/assets.

I would have thought that was his job. You might be amazed at the bullshit that you incur going through this process.

My lawyer didn’t tell me that would happen. At no point did she sit me down and say “This is how the valuation will go down. You may want to adjust this year’s figures with this in mind”.

After my last tax return, I received a garnishee notice from the ATO. Had I got my accountant to complete a trial balance prior to the valuation, the valuer would have used it instead of my latest tax return.

I could have taken that amount owed to the ATO from my profit. I wasn’t told that by my lawyer either.

Some lawyers just sit by and let the machine roll over you without doing their best to help you. And they charge you $500 per hour for the pleasure.

My family lawyer told me when we first met, “We’ll do something about Jannawi later”.

After $50,000 from the sale of my house had been deposited into her trust fund to cover her costs, she let me know that I would do my case damage if I spoke poorly of Jannawi in front of the judge. She knew the judge who was , apparently, a one eyed Jannawi fan.

She had obviously never had any intention of “doing something about Jannawi”. At that point she already had my $50,000.

When I started the court battle, I wanted 50 percent custody, which my lawyer seemed to think was possible.

Some meetings later, after my $50,000 was in her trust account, she said, out of the blue, that the courts were probably going to give the bulk of custody to the mother.

At the time, I thought that comment was quite weird. It didn’t fit the context of the conversation that we were having.

In hindsight, she was managing my expectations. Had she told me that before I hired her I would have gone elsewhere, until I found someone who told me what I wanted to hear.

Of course, that may have made no difference to the outcome. I wouldn’t define that behaviour as corruption. It’s someone being a polite bullshit artist to make a living.

Don’t trust the bastards…

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