Family Law Frequently Asked Questions

The team of family lawyers at Paterson & Dowding are experts in the field of family law. The law can be confusing, especially when you have never dealt with it before. Rest assured, we are here to answer your frequently asked questions regarding family law.

If you are considering a divorce, get in touch with the Perth Divorce Lawyers at Paterson & Dowding.

What To Expect When Attending Court

Where do I go?

The Family Court is located at 150 Terrace Road, Perth (corner of Terrace Road) behind the Duxton Hotel and adjacent to the Perth Concert Hall. Whilst there is undercover parking at the Concert Hall and an outdoor carpark between the Family Court building and Riverside Drive, parking can be scarce. We therefore suggest that you make a generous allowance for parking time.

It is difficult to anticipate how long you might be occupied at Court. We recommend you allow a minimum of 2 hours. We suggest you avoid parking in the street so you can avoid the added stress of having to leave the Court to top-up your parking meter.

You may check the Family Court of Western Australia website at on the day of your hearing, or the evening before, to find out the number of the courtroom in which your matter will be heard and the name of your Judicial Officer. Click on Court List tab on the left hand side of the page.


Entry to the Building

There are three entrances to the Family Court located at street level on Victoria Avenue; at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Terrace Road; and from the concourse located between the Concert Hall and the Family Court. You will undergo security screening at all entrances.


When and where do I meet my Lawyer?

We suggest you liaise with your Lawyer prior to any hearing to make specific arrangements. You should otherwise find out the number of your courtroom or conference room on the Family Court website, or on the notice boards located at the entrances to the Court.

Please check in with a Court Officer at the main desk on the floor level of your courtroom or conference room and wait close by for your Lawyer to arrive. Alternatively, you can meet outside your courtroom or conference room. For example, if your matter has been listed in say Court 3.2, we will meet you on level 3 outside court 3.2.

In the absence of other agreement, you should ensure that you arrive at Court at least 10 minutes prior to the listing time.


What do I wear?

You should dress neatly and conservatively. For ladies we recommend a blouse, skirt or pants, preferably with closed shoes. For gentleman, we suggest a long sleeve shirt, trousers and closed shoes. The courtrooms can get quite cool in which case we recommend that you bring a jacket, cardigan or jumper. Please remove any sunglasses and hats from your head as you enter a courtroom or conference room. You must switch your mobile phone to silent or off before you enter the courtroom.


How do I address the Court?

This depends upon the Judicial Officer concerned. If your matter is heard before a Registrar, you may address him/her as “Registrar” or “Sir/Madam”. If your matter is listed before a Magistrate or Judge, you must address him/her as “Your Honour” or “Sir/Madam”.

If a Judicial Officer of any kind is sitting when you enter or leave a courtroom, you must bow towards the person. You must also stand and bow whenever the Judicial Officer enters or leaves the courtroom.


What do I bring?

If you have sworn an Affidavit and will be giving evidence or undergoing cross examination, please bring a clean (ie no notes) copy of your sworn Affidavit(s) with you. Generally speaking, you will only be required to give evidence at a Trial or in the event of a Contravention/Enforcement hearing.

Please bring note-paper and a pen so you can take notes and pass messages to us or your Counsel during the proceedings.


Can I bring a support person?

You are welcome to bring a support person or two with you. We suggest you do not bring many people. This may intimidate the other party or cause arguments. Please consider how the other party may react to the presence of your support person, particularly if that person is a new partner. It may be best for your new partner to wait for you at an agreed location away from the Court. DO NOT bring children unless you intend to use the child care service at the Court.

Whilst any support partners, family or friends may generally sit in the back of the courtroom to view the proceedings, they will not be allowed to attend or participate in any conferences.

What if I do not feel safe around the other party?

If you have concerns for your safety please advise the Court Officer at the main desk who will alert security, if necessary.


Will I be able to speak with my Lawyer in private?

Yes. However, the Court venue is generally very busy, particularly in the mornings and there are only limited private conference rooms available. This means it may be necessary for you to speak with your Lawyer in open areas.


Will there be an opportunity to negotiate outside of Court?

Depending upon the nature of the listing there may be opportunities for negotiations to take place outside the courtroom. Lawyers commonly meet before a hearing to discuss issues in dispute, enquire whether any issues can be agreed, exchange documents, etc.

Your Lawyer will confer with you throughout any negotiations and will not make any offers or concessions without having first obtained your instructions. The negotiation process can be quite pressured or stressful. In considering any offers or proposals made by the other party your Lawyer is likely to discuss with you the following –

  • Whether an offer falls within a reasonable range of potential outcomes if you were to proceed to a hearing.
  • The likely attitude of a particular Judge or Magistrate to the issue in dispute.
  • The cost/benefit of pursuing a particular aspect of your matter. For example you may be counselled against insisting upon the return of certain personal items in circumstances where the replacement value is less than the likely legal fees outlaid in pursuing the same.
  • Potential delay involved in securing a final decision and factors which may work for or against you during any such delay.
  • The emotional cost of pursuing a litigated outcome not only for yourself but also your children and possibly other family members.
  • The uncertainty of outcome given the discretionary nature of decision making in the Family Court.


The Listing itself

In Child Related Proceedings you will sit next to your Lawyer. For most other hearings you will sit behind your Lawyer, or in the public seating area.

Your level of involvement will depend upon the nature of the hearing. Generally speaking your Lawyer will make submissions on your behalf. The Judicial Officer may ask questions of your Lawyer that require your immediate instructions. The Judicial Officer may occasionally direct a question to you. You must listen carefully to such questions and answer them clearly and honestly.

The Judicial Officer or the other party may put forward a proposal or suggestion. Your Lawyer may advise you what an appropriate response might be, in which case we urge you to follow such advice.


If you wish to discuss the matter in more detail with your Lawyer, you may ask for a short break so you can discuss your matter in more detail outside the courtroom. You can also do this if you feel that your Lawyer or the Court has misunderstood an important issue, or that there is something important that you wish to tell the Court.

A hearing or conference can be quite pressured. Your Lawyer will be listening carefully to the Judicial Officer and the other party, in order to conduct your case. It is therefore important that you do not unnecessarily distract your Lawyer. If there is something important you wish to bring to your Lawyer’s attention, we recommend you pass a note to him or her. Please note that in light of the rules of evidence and our professional obligations to the Court, you should not expect that your Lawyer will tell the Judicial Officer everything you want to say when you want to say it.


Your demeanour is important

The Judicial Officer will be looking at your body language and the way you conduct yourself. Therefore, if the other party or his/her lawyer or witnesses say something that you consider to be untrue or inflammatory, please refrain from calling out or posturing in reply. Please note that anything said in the courtroom may be recorded even when the Court is not actually in session.


The Court grapevine

There are generally a number of Court Officers and Staff present in the Court precinct. Please conduct yourself respectfully at all times and resist the temptation of engaging with the other party other than by way of a polite acknowledgment, regardless of their conduct towards you. It is possible the Judge or Magistrate deciding your case will be informed of any inappropriate conduct outside the courtroom, but within the Court precinct.

The Family Law profession in Perth is relatively small and generally collegial. Many of the Lawyers at Paterson & Dowding have been in practicing law with their fellow colleagues for a number of years. Do not be concerned if your Lawyer or others from Paterson & Dowding engage in a friendly manner with the other party’s Lawyer (or their client). Our professional courtesy to others does not and will not compromise in any way, our ability to represent your interests.

Please note however that our professional obligations as Officers of the Court may conflict with, or take priority over your interests. This is a rare occurrence. If an issue of this nature arises your Lawyer will discuss your rights and obligations arising from any such issue.


The Family Court can make an order for spousal maintenance in relation to couples who are or have been married or are or were in a de facto relationship.

Spousal maintenance is not child support.  Child support is paid for the benefit of children.  Where the Court makes an order for spousal maintenance, this is paid in addition to any child support that you or the other party may be required to pay.

In deciding whether or not to make an order for spousal maintenance the Court must be satisfied that –

  • One party is unable to support themselves; and
  • The other party has the financial capacity to support the first party.

There are various reasons as to why one party may not be able to support themselves, such as that person being unable to work as a result of having the care of a child aged under 18 years, or due to age, ill health or lack of skills.

There are no precise rules as to how much spousal maintenance a person should receive.  The Court is required to consider a list of factors in determining an appropriate amount.  As part of this process, the Court will consider both parties’ financial resources, as well as other factors such as the standard of living enjoyed by them during the course of their relationship.

All cases differ, and it is likely that your circumstances will be different to those of anyone else you know undergoing property settlement proceedings.  If you believe you may have an entitlement or obligation to receive or pay spousal maintenance we recommend that you obtain prompt legal advice.


For more information, please contact a Paterson & Dowding lawyer on 9226 3300.


Why contact Paterson & Dowding?

We have knowledgeable and experienced lawyers who can assist you to draft a Financial Agreement, or review an agreement prepared by the other party’s lawyer. We can also advise you how to enforce or set aside the agreement.

Contact us to book an initial appointment with Patricia Schrape or Caroline Teo
for only $360 + GST to discuss how a Financial Agreement might work for you.

Is a Financial Agreement always binding?

A Financial Agreement is not always “binding”. It is only binding if all the legislative requirements have been met, the agreement has not been terminated and it has not been set aside by the Family Court. If you think your agreement is not valid, you should seek legal advice to see whether it can be set aside.

Why is it important to see a lawyer when considering a Financial Agreement?

It is essential that you see a lawyer to ensure that your agreement is, as far as possible, valid and enforceable. At Paterson & Dowding we recommend you speak with either Caroline Teo or Patricia Schrape who are both experienced in drafting, advising and representing clients in relation to these agreements.

Further, it is important that your agreement also works at a practical level, so that in the unfortunate event that you separate, your agreement will operate clearly to manage your financial affairs. In other words, even though your agreement might comply with the legislation, if it has vague or imprecise terms, you might still find yourself unable to use your agreement. This may lead to arguments and the need to ask the Family Court to interpret your agreement.

What is the effect of a Financial Agreement?

It allows you to contract out of the provisions of the legislation that normally apply to separating couples in relation to spousal maintenance and property settlement. The legislation sets out detailed requirements for the drafting of these agreements. The Family Court has interpreted these requirements very strictly on the basis that if you wish to avoid the protection of the court, you must do so very carefully.

When is it appropriate to use a Financial Agreement?

  • To protect your family wealth and or inheritance, particularly where a spouse is a member of a family trust or business;
  • Farming families in particular may look to a Financial Agreement to protect the farming enterprise for the next generation;
  • To decrease the risk of becoming involved in Family Court proceedings following a separation;
  • Couples entering into second or subsequent relationships or marriages often enter into Financial Agreements to protect the assets they bring with them, especially if they wish to preserve such property for any children of their earlier relationship or marriage; and
  • As part of general estate planning or business succession planning measures.

When can you enter into a Financial Agreement?

  • Before you enter into a de-facto relationship or before you get married;
  • during your de-facto relationship or marriage; or
  • after separation or divorce, in which case your agreement operates to record the terms of your settlement as an alternative to obtaining consent orders from the Family Court.

Financial Agreements are not just for “celebrities”.

How much will it cost?

The nature of family law matters makes it extremely difficult to provide you with an estimate of your potential total legal costs.  Some or all of the following factors may have an effect on the amount of legal fees you may incur:

  • The size or complexity of your family and financial affairs.
  • The conduct of the other party and/or their lawyer.
  • The actual time we are required to spend to prepare your matter.
  • The cost of disbursements.  We have no control over some of these costs (such as court fees, expert report fees, search fees).
  • Whether you brief a barrister.
  • Whether it becomes necessary to issue or defend Court proceedings.
  • Whether your matter settles before or after the filing of court proceedings.

Quite often unforeseen issues arise.  For example, witnesses may alter their evidence, or new evidence may come into existence during your matter.  These things can obviously have a positive or negative impact on your case, which may require us to perform more or less work.  This will affect our costs.  You must be prepared to deal with these matters in a flexible manner.

If you are required to issue or defend court proceedings, we will provide you with formal updates of your costs at various stages of the proceedings as required under the Family Law Rules 2004 and Family Court Rules 1998.

Our lawyers charge their time on an hourly basis and will provide an estimate of costs at your initial meeting. If you and your former partner provide all the information within the time frame and cooperate, the collaborative practice will almost certainly be quicker and cheaper than a dispute resolved by a court hearing.

The Legal Profession Act 2008 Legal Profession (Family Court of Western Australia) Determination stipulates:

Hourly rates

(a) The hourly and daily rates set out in Table A are the maximum hourly and daily rates, inclusive of GST, which the Legal Costs Committee determines shall be used to calculate the dollar amounts chargeable by a legal practitioner, clerk or paralegal in providing advice and services to their own clients in respect of proceedings and potential proceedings in the Family Court.

(b) The daily rates set out in Table A are intended to cover all work done on a hearing or trial day, whether in or out of court, including preparation of written submissions and are not intended to be supplemented in any way by additional hourly charges given that the maximum number of hours allowed for the daily rate is 10 hours per day. 

Table A

Fee Earner Maximum allowable hourly and daily rates
Senior Practitioner (permitted to practise on his or her own account for 5 years or more) (SP)° hourly rate  


Junior Practitioner (permitted to practise on his or her own account for less than 5 years) (JP)° hourly rate  


Restricted Practitioner (RP) °, # hourly rate $297
Clerk/Paralegal (C/PL) ## hourly rate $231
Counsel fees charged as a disbursement to practitioners or charged by in-house Counsel:
Counsel (C)* hourly rate

daily rate



Senior Counsel (SC)* hourly rate

daily rate



All clients receive a detailed Cost Agreement setting out Paterson & Dowding’s terms in relation to the scope of works. We aim to be transparent about costs at all times and to assist our clients with payment plans when required.

What is the process once I make an initial enquiry?

On receipt of your initial inquiry via our website form, email ( or telephone, a Client Relationship Coordinator will contact you. You will be asked to provide a brief overview of your situation and some personal information so we can conduct a conflict check . This is necessary to help us assess whether we can assist you. Depending on the outcome, we will  match you with the lawyer best suited to your unique situation and send you a calendar invitation with a New Client Instruction Sheet to complete and return prior to the appointment.

Please arrive 10 minutes prior to the appointment to provide proof of identity and finalise your New Client Instruction Sheet.  This will help to ensure the lawyer is able to focus on your situation during the meeting and not capture details. During the appointment, the lawyer will provide you with an indication of your options to resolve your matter, give you an indication of costs and answer any questions you have surrounding your situation. Your appointment with a lawyer is protected by Legal Professional Privilege. This means we cannot disclose anything you tell us, to anyone else, without your consent. Following the appointment, you will be asked to pay the fixed fee discounted rate offered to new clients.

Following the appointment, should you wish to engage our services, you will be invited to sign our costs agreement. This sets out our fees and charges and the terms upon which we would be willing to assist you. Once you have signed the costs agreement and complied with any terms regarding payment, we will begin working on your matter.

Your matter can progress through a number of stages to reach a resolution. The first stage is negotiation with the other party as this is the simplest and cheapest option. If no agreement is reached, the next stage is usually mediation followed by Court proceedings – however, we encourage parties to settle their disputes using negotiation. Please read the article on Alternative Dispute Resolution options which explains why mediation is such a powerful tool as it represents a much faster, cheaper and more empowering process to help resolve disputes, because decisions are made by the parties themselves.

What to expect and bring to the initial consultation?

Your lawyer will ask you to explain your situation and the family law issues you wish to resolve ie the reasons for the breakdown of your relationship. S/he will inform you of your legal rights, explain what options are available to you to resolve your dispute, discuss any concerns you have surrounding your family law matter and propose a plan for the next steps. We will also discuss anticipated legal costs with you. There is no obligation to proceed with engaging the lawyer after your initial consultation.

It is beneficial to you and your lawyer if you come to the initial meeting prepared with as much information as you can. This includes:

  • A summary of key dates such as dates of birth, date of marriage, date you started living with together, date of separation, the names and dates of birth of your children, and dates when key assets were acquired and/or sold.
  • If the issue relates to a financial settlement:
    • Details of the assets, liabilities and superannuation, that currently exist and how they are owned.
    • Bank account details and current balances.
    • All known sources of income that are available between you and your former partner, and a list of the regular household expenses.
  • Where the issues relate to children and parenting, documents such as recent school reports, and medical information (if relevant).
  • A list of questions you wish to ask.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all of this information or you are unsure about what to ask. Our lawyers are skilled in knowing what you need to know, even if you don’t ask.

To assist you will be provided with a New Client Instruction Sheet to complete prior to the meeting.

Why should I choose Paterson & Dowding?

Our team of Family Lawyers in Perth and Joondalup offers a broad range of services for separated, married and de facto couples and interested third parties.

As one of the longest established Family Law firms in Perth with 50 years of experience, our highly skilled team consists of Accredited Family Law Specialists, Nationally Accredited Mediators, Collaborative Lawyers, Independent Children’s Lawyers and a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner.

We are committed to fully understanding each client’s specific legal concerns, no matter how complicated the matter, in order to achieve the best outcome.


Who is the best lawyer for my matter – toughest, most experienced, gets best results?

All of our lawyers practise in all areas of Family Law. All matters are overseen by a senior practitioner with assistance from junior lawyers and clerks as required. This ensures a value for money service to our clients.

Many of our lawyers have specialist interests in particular aspects of Family Law. Please view our staff profiles on our website to find a lawyer with the right experience for your Family Law issue.

Do I need a family lawyer?

We recognise that this may be a very stressful time in your life and our lawyers are well equipped to provide you with constructive guidance.  We recommend that you have the benefit of meeting with one of our lawyers for at least a one-off consultation before making any decisions.

Paterson & Dowding is pleased to offer new clients, a special arrangement to access the services of one of Western Australia’s oldest and most highly regarded Family Law firms. We offer a special, fixed fee rate for an initial one hour appointment with a lawyer that you have been matched with. This will allow enough time to ask questions and to be provided with practical advice to help you navigate your way through your legal issues. 

We recommend you follow the following 3 Steps –

Step 1:  Talk it over if you can

One of the first things to consider before involving lawyers is to consider whether or not your marriage or relationship can be saved.  In some cases, one of you may be thinking more about divorce than the other. There is a wide range of support available from counsellors and therapists that can help salvage your relationship. Ask us for a list of our recommended specialists.

Consider mediation (Family Dispute Resolution)

Even if you are sure that your marriage or relationship has broken down and cannot be repaired, mediation may be a suitable option and one that can be undertaken in parallel with the legal process.  A good mediator can assist you and your spouse to reach an agreement quickly and amicably, and save you money in legal fees in the long run.

You can find mediation or Family Dispute Resolution services at organisations such as Relationships Australia and Anglicare, however they often have longer wait times.  A number of private mediators are also available. We recommend our Lucy Thomas and Meredith Hunter who are both experienced and highly regarded for their approach and success rate.

Collaborative family law

At P&D we also have lawyers who practice collaborative family law. Collaboration is a process where parties, their lawyers and other professionals agree to work together to find a workable solution. In a collaborative process, you and your former partner agree not to go to Court and not threaten to use the Court process as a means of coercing the other to agree. Contact Caroline Teo and Meredith Hunter if you are interested in a Collaborative approach.

Step 2: Choose the right lawyer

One of the first decisions you need to make when have separated from your spouse is to choose the right lawyer.

There are many options and it can be hard to know where to start looking.

Not all family law cases are the same and at P&D we will do our best to match you with the right lawyer based on the information you have provided our Client Relationship Coordinator.

We will make sure that the lawyer you appoint has the necessary experience and the relevant special skills to get the result you want.  We recognise that each and every one of our clients has special circumstances which may depend upon the nature of your relationship with your former spouse and your financial circumstances.

What should you look for when choosing a family lawyer? 

A good family lawyer will:

  • Have the appropriate knowledge and experience.
  • Have an excellent word of mouth reputation or be recommended by Doyles.
  • Care about your case and give you their full attention.
  • Give you a straight answer and not get your hopes up by seeking a result that is not realistic.
  • Clearly explain the legal framework and your options.

Our Initial Consultation process will enable you to meet with the lawyer we have matched you with, based on the information you have provided to our Client Relationship Coordinator, to determine whether they are the best fit for you before you decide to engage us to proceed with your case.

Step 3: Attend your initial consultation

Please refer What to expect and bring to the initial consultation? for more information on this step.

What can you do?

One of the major concerns voiced by clients is the cost of litigation. We are often asked by our clients what they can do themselves to keep costs down.

If you are considering making an appointment with divorce lawyers in Perth, there are a number of things you can prepare that can save us time and you money.

For the first appointment:

You should ensure that you have the following information available to provide your family lawyer:

  • Full name, address and date(s) of birth of you, the other party and any children
  • Date you began living together
  • Date of marriage
  • Place of marriage
  • Date of separation
  • The living arrangements of your children (if applicable)
  • Details of your assets and liabilities, including superannuation (owned solely and jointly)

You should endeavour to bring the following documents with you:

  • Your marriage certificate
  • Birth certificates for the children (if applicable)
  • Any previous court documentation, especially court orders
  • Any letters or documents from your former partner or their solicitor

Don’t worry if you can’t provide the information or you don’t have access to the documents.  We will be able to help you obtain these details and get the documents we need to properly advise you.

To assist, we will provide you with a handy New Client Instruction Sheet to capture the information prior to the appointment. This will also ensure you make the most of the initial consultation.