Court proceedings to be filed against Federal Attorney General to stop divorce fee hike for families

24 July 2015
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers will today file proceedings in the Federal Court in a bid to stop a regulation introduced by Federal Attorney General George Brandis that has seen a substantial hike in court fees in the Family Court to file a divorce and to issue a subpoena.

The new fees introduced by the Attorney General came into effect on July 13 2015, and have led to a 40% increase in the fee to file a divorce (from $845 to $1200) and a 225% increase in the fee to issue a subpoena ($55 to $125). A $125 fee now also applies for amended applications to be submitted to the Family Court, when previously no fee applied.

The proceedings will be filed on behalf of Graham Perrett, the Federal Member for Moreton and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General with responsibility for family law and others, given the significant impacts of the increased fees on any Australian who may need a divorce in the future.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Rod Hodgson said the Attorney General had ignored the will of the Parliament in choosing to force through a previously disallowed regulation that would hit families when they were already struggling with the significant burden of a marriage breakdown, and the personal and financial costs that come with this.

“This is an important matter, that needs to be resolved for Australian families,” Mr Hodgson said.

“These increased fees will hit people when they are at their lowest, and they also threaten people’s ability to access justice – there is no doubt that by making this more expensive the Abbott Government is leaving people in limbo.

“This is also an important legal matter, in introducing these increased fees the Attorney General has ignored the will of the Parliament and also gone around the Parliament to force these fees on Australians. The Attorney General had previously sought to introduce a regulation that included these Family Court fee hikes, but this was disallowed following a motion in the Senate.

“Under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, members of Parliament are unable to re-introduce a regulation of similar substance within six months of a regulation being disallowed.

“The Attorney General ignored the Senate however and introduced a fee increase regulation regardless that is now in effect. That means that since 13 July 2015, Australian families have been paying substantially more to file for divorce, despite the Parliament having disallowed that action. It is either a mistake, or the Government is out of touch and treating the Parliament with contempt.

“The legal issue is whether the regulations now in force are in substance the same as those knocked back by the Senate. We say they are. And if they are, they are not valid and the Government will have to go back and do things properly, including not bypassing the Senate.

“The Parliament made their view on these proposed fee increases very clear – they disallowed it. And they disallowed it for good reason: the increased fees are punishing. A 42% increase in the fee for a divorce and a 225% increase in subpoena fees is unacceptable.

“The Senate thought so, and so do we.

“Sadly, around two in five marriages end in divorce. The pain is emotional and many people are left financially devastated. Making that pain worse with a massive hike in divorce fees is unfair and there’s no sound reason for it.

“Our client Mr Perrett also instructed us to write to Senator Brandis to allow him an opportunity to do the fair thing, and to promptly withdraw this regulation in a bid to rectify this as soon as possible for families, which we did.

“The Attorney has failed however to withdraw the regulation, leaving us no option but to file proceedings in the Federal Court to try and put an urgent stop to Australians having to pay a divorce fee hike that has been disallowed by the Parliament,” he said.

Timeline of events

  • 15 June 2015 The first regulation, that included a schedule detailing proposed divorce filing and subpoena fee increases was tabled in both houses of Federal Parliament.
  • 22 June 2015 A motion was moved in the Senate seeking for the full regulation to be disallowed.
  • 25 June 2015 That motion was withdrawn, and a further motion was tabled, seeking this time that the schedule within the regulation relating to the proposed fee increases be disallowed. That motion was voted on without debate and subsequently carried by the Senate.
  • 12 July 2015 The Federal Attorney General again introduced a regulation seeking to increase the fees for filing a divorce and to issue subpoenas.
  • 13 July 2015 The regulation, and subsequent fee increases, were made effective.

Breakdown of divorce fee increases*

Family Law Fees

Full Divorce Fee
2014: $845
Rejected: $1195
Latest: $1200

Issue Subpoena
2014: $55
Rejected: $120
Latest: $125

Amended Applications
2014: $0
Rejected: $125
Latest: $125

* Other fees have also increased, and additionally there are new fees where no previous fee applied.