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The Essential Guide to Understanding Australian Family Law Proceedings


Separation is hard. Even when the parties are getting along and there are no children, decisions still need to be made. The challenges include:

  • Whether one party should move out and if so, who.
  • How rates and insurance are going to be paid.
  • Whether to continue using a joint account.
  • Whether the family home should be sold or retained by one of the parties.
  • How all this is going to be paid for.

The process can become even more complicated when children are involved, especially if there is a dispute about who the children should live with or if one party is withholding access from the other.

Often there is no easy compromise, and navigating through all this uncertainty can be like trying to cross a mine field without a map.

This guide to family law in Australia aims to serve as your compass, detailing the essential steps and considerations in the family law process to help you find your way with confidence.

Table of Contents

Step 1: The Initial Consultation & How to Get the Most Out Of It

The Importance of Early Advice

  • Early advice minimises uncertainty and prevents disputes from escalating.
  • It equips you with knowledge to make informed decisions and foster productive interactions with your ex-partner, potentially saving you both financial and emotional distress.

Maximising Your Consultation at BWJ Law

BWJ Law offers a discounted initial consultation of up to 60 minutes. During this time, we focus on:

It is our goal to ensure you leave the consultation with an understanding of your rights and options, and a plan for the future that is tailored to your specific needs.

Preparing for Your Consultation

To make the most of your time, preparation is key:

For Property Matters

  1. Bring a list of assets and liabilities for both parties, including superannuation, with current values (estimates are acceptable).
  2. Provide information on wealth brought into the relationship, significant financial events, and details of any gifts or inheritances.
  3. Share details on each party’s income earning capacity and any impacting factors like health or parenting responsibilities.

For Parenting Matters

  1. Prepare a list of questions prioritised by importance.
  2. Create a timeline of significant incidents affecting parenting, like domestic violence incidents or hospital admissions.
  3. Bring a copy of any relevant documents such as domestic violence or family law orders, parenting plans, or police statements.
  4. Consider your ideal parenting arrangement, taking into account practical and safety concerns.

The Benefit of Preparation

Arriving prepared allows us to dedicate more time to offering tailored advice and exploring solutions, and enhances the accuracy and quality of our guidance. This preparation empowers you to move forward with greater confidence in your legal journey.

Step 2: Information Gathering

Especially in property matters, it is impossible for any lawyer to give reliable and accurate advice without knowing all the details about the relevant asset pool and each party’s financial circumstances.

Any settlement made on the basis of advice given without that information is at risk of being unfair and possibly being set aside or disregarded by the Courts.

Similarly, there is no point exchanging offers if neither side has enough information to know whether or not the offer is a good one. For this reason, the exchange of relevant information is a necessary and important part of any family law negotiation.

Obligation of Disclosure Under the Family Law Act

To make sure that each party has all the necessary information, the Family Law Act imposes an obligation on each person involved in a family law dispute to provide full and frank disclosure of all relevant information to the other.

The process of exchanging such information is often simply called ‘providing disclosure’.

Clarifying Disputes and Agreements

Especially in parenting cases, this stage often involves writing to the other party to raise any concerns and invite the other side to respond to them.

The letter might also include a list of relevant facts and/or a history of the events leading up to the dispute, along with an invitation to the other side to respond.

This provides an opportunity to identify which facts are agreed and which are not. Having that information tell us whether you need to obtain more evidence, and if so, what that evidence might be.

It also provides an opportunity to resolve points in dispute early, for example, by jointly appointing an expert to provide evidence about a child’s development, or the value of the former matrimonial home.

Finalising Asset and Liability Values (property matters)

Once the process is completed, the parties will typically have identified and agreed upon the value of all their relevant assets and liabilities, which will be set out in a table which is often called a ‘schedule of assets and liabilities’.

By the end of the information gathering stage, the parties are usually in a position to engage in meaningful negotiations and try to settle the matter outside of court.

Reducing Legal Fees Through Preparedness

One of the simplest and most effective ways to mitigate your legal fees is to comply with the obligation of disclosure and if possible, agree upon a schedule of assets and liabilities with your ex, before engaging lawyers.

This reduces the amount of administrative work your lawyers need to undertake on your behalf, improves the quality of advice you get early on in the case, and allows you to focus your legal budget on negotiations rather than exchanging financial records.

In some cases, especially where there has been family violence, it may not be possible to have such discussions without legal support.

If you find yourself in that situation then we will assist you through the process and handle all communications with the other side so you don’t have to.

You can still reduce your fees by making sure you neatly organise and label your own disclosure material, before passing it on to your lawyer.

Step 3 – Negotiations

Negotiations in family law tend to follow a standard process set out in detail in “the Pre-Action Procedures”, which lay out the steps each party is obligated to take before commencing proceedings in Court.

Pre-Action Procedures – General Expectations

There are slight differences between the pre-action procedures for parenting matters and for property matters, however one thing they have in common is a firm expectation that parties will make a genuine effort to reach agreement before taking a matter to Court.

This involves complying with the duty of disclosure, attending mediation, and exchanging genuine offers of compromise.

Initial Negotiations by correspondence and phone

Negotiations will usually open with one party making an offer of settlement in writing to the other.

Sometimes it is important to justify the offer by referring any relevant evidence and supporting legal principals, but this extra work can be avoided in cases where the parties agree on the relevant background and history,

Once each party has made their position clear, the lawyers will often have a conversation over the phone to identify common ground and ‘sound out’ possible solutions.

This can be an effective way at reducing the need for written correspondence which saves time and money for both parties.

If agreement is reached at this stage then the parties may save significant legal fees by avoiding the need to attend mediation.

However, it is also important to have a clear idea of how much time and money you are willing to commit to negotiations via correspondence since the fees can quickly add up and a ‘war of letters’ is rarely an effective way at reaching agreement.

Negotiations via mediation

If attempts to negotiate directly with the other side by phone or correspondence have failed, then the next step is to attend mediation with a suitably qualified Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (a mediator).

The mediator is an independent third party who is jointly appointed by the parties to help them reach an agreement.

Mediation is a proven and reliable method of resolving disputes, and the role of a mediator in assisting the parties to overcome communication barriers and to identify and agree upon possible solutions is invaluable.

In some cases, you may be able to have an effective mediation without your lawyer present. In such cases we will be available to you throughout the day for advice.

Formal Notice Before Court Proceedings

If, after having made a genuine effort to reach agreement at mediation one party intends to commence proceedings in Court, then there is also a requirement that that person give the other formal notice of their intention to commence proceedings. This notice must contain:
  • a genuine offer of compromise,
  • notice of the orders that the person intends to apply for if the offer is refused,
  • a list of issues for determination by the Court, and
  • a time frame by which the other side must respond (usually at least 14 days)
If you receive a Notice of Intention to Commence Proceedings, then you must reply to it within the time frame provided by the other side. Your response must also contain a genuine offer of compromise, notice of the orders you intend to seek if your offer is refused, and a list of issues for determination by the court. A party may commence proceedings if they have sent a notice of intention to commence proceedings to the other side and not received a response within the time frame provided, or if agreement is still not reached after notices have been exchanged.

Exceptions to Pre-Action Procedures

There are some exceptions to the obligation to comply with the pre-action procedures, for example in cases of genuine urgency, or where there is a history of family violence.

That said, there are also serious consequences for not complying without a reasonable excuse. For this reason, you should always get advice and think carefully about commencing proceedings in Court before having complied with the pre-action procedures.

Costs and Complexity in Negotiations

The costs associated with negotiating a family law matter and working through the pre-action procedures depends greatly on the complexity of the matter and how many issues there are in dispute.

Often, people are able to reach agreement after exchanging one or two offers of settlement, in which case there may not be any need to attend mediation.

Stage 4 – Finalising an Out-of-Court Settlement

If agreement is reached at any stage of a case before it ends up in Court, then the next step is to formalise the bargain.

Binding Financial Agreements

Consent Orders

Parenting Plans

In contrast, Consent Orders tend to be very rigid and can be hard to amend. For this reason, Parenting Plans are often preferred.

Step 5 – Litigation

Finally, if all else fails, or in particularly urgent cases, the next step toward resolution of a family law dispute is to commence proceedings in Court.

Getting into Court involves drafting a variety of complicated documents, but the most important ones set out the Orders you are asking the Court to make (on both a temporary and a final basis), and the evidence that are you relying upon.

It is critically important to ensure that these documents are properly prepared since failing to do so can cause long-term damage to your case.

Case Management by Judicial Registrar

Once a case is brought to the Court, a Judicial Registrar will ‘case manage’ the proceedings.

This usually involves making any orders necessary to deal with outstanding disclosure issues, and making sure each party has filed the right paperwork so that each person knows what evidence the other side is going to rely on and what their arguments are going to be.

In parenting cases, it also involves obtaining a report from an independent expert who will speak with the children (if appropriate) as well as the parties, and who will make recommendations about what might be in the child’s best interests.

Interim Hearings

Sometimes there is an issue that is so urgent it needs to be decided on before a case is ready for final determination.

Examples include cases where a child is being denied a relationship with one of their parents, or where a property needs to be sold to avoid foreclosure.

Hearings about these types of issues are called ‘interim hearings’.

Final Steps and Trial

Once all the necessary reports and evidence has been obtained, the Court will usually direct the parties to have a final attempt at mediation and if there is still no agreement after that, then the matter be set down for a trial.

At the trial, the witnesses will be asked questions by the other’s lawyer (a process called cross-examination), and a Judge will decide what orders to make based on the answers to those questions alongside all the other evidence and each party’s arguments.

Finalizing Agreements Before Trial

If agreement is reached before trial, then the parties can ask the Court to make final orders by consent. This usually involves giving the Court an agreed upon set of orders along with a letter to the Court explaining why the Court should make the orders the parties have agreed on.

Reach Out to BWJ Law for Expert Family Law Support

Navigating family law matters can be complex and emotionally challenging.

At BWJ Law, we specialise in providing expert legal guidance and support through every step of the process, from initial consultations to negotiations and, if necessary, litigation.

Our experienced family lawyers are committed to helping you achieve the best possible outcome with compassion and understanding.

For tailored advice and representation in your family law case, contact BWJ Law today.

Need Help Navigating Family Law?

Our experienced family lawyers can guide you through the process.

Contact BWJ Law for a consultation today!

Lisa Lucas

Lisa Lucas

Legal Bookkeeping & Accounting

Meet Lisa, our seasoned professional who joined our team in August 2022, boasting an impressive background of over two decades in accounting. With a solid foundation in IT and a Bachelor of Science under her belt, Lisa’s journey evolved as she not only managed her own accounting firm but also earned postgraduate degrees in both accounting and commercial law.

In her pivotal role, Lisa is instrumental in maintaining the firm’s compliance and ensuring seamless operations. Her wealth of experience brings a wealth of knowledge to our team, contributing to our success and client satisfaction.

Beyond the numbers, Lisa finds balance in her life through activities like Pilates and walks with her beloved dogs. Her dedication, expertise, and passion make Lisa an invaluable asset to our team, driving us towards excellence in every aspect of our work.

Amy Hayslep

Amy Hayslep


Amy joined our team in December 2022 as a receptionist, where she plays a vital role in managing our firm’s administrative support and daily operations. 

Her commitment to excellence and efficiency has greatly contributed to the smooth running of our office. 

Amy is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Business with a focus on Marketing at the University of the Sunshine Coast, a testament to her dedication to professional growth and understanding of business dynamics. 

Amy’s aspiration to integrate her marketing insights into her current role demonstrates her forward-thinking approach and commitment to continuous improvement. Outside of work, Amy enjoys Pilates, baking, and gardening.

Jon Staby

Jon Staby


Jon was born in Windhoek, Namibia and moved with his family to Brisbane in 2005. Jon is currently studying his Bachelor of Laws and aims to complete it by the end of 2024. 

Jon has been currently working as a Paralegal since April 2023 and has a keen interest in all family law areas.  

Jon believes in the law to empathetically and expertly help clients to reach the best outcomes for their unique circumstances. 

In his free time, Jon’s hobbies include painting, playing basketball with friends, and watching television shows with his pet cat Luna.  

Serena May

Serena May

LLB (Hons) BBus

Serena was admitted to the profession in 2022 and holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Business from QUT. 

Serena has previous experience as a Barrister’s Assistant in family law as well as working in a mid-tier commercial law firm in property law, wills and estates, employment law and construction disputes. This experience has provided her with the opportunity to learn from an array of senior legal practitioners before choosing to specialise in family law.

Serena is passionate about ensuring her clients feel well informed throughout their matter. Serena acknowledges every personal circumstance is unique and no other person knows exactly what it is like to walk in your shoes. 

Serena recognises that clients are often experiencing immense stress and require compassionate and efficient communication from start to finish to empower them to move on to the next chapter of their life.

On her weekends Serena enjoys heading to the coast for a surf and spending time with her poodle pup, Miss April May.

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson

Practice Leader – Founder

Michael was awarded a Bachelor of Laws with Honours from QUT in 2012, and was admitted as a lawyer in 2013. 

He also has a Bachelor of Science from UQ which he was awarded in 2007 (before deciding that a career in law would be more interesting than science).

Michael has practiced exclusively in the areas of Family Law, Child Safety (Care and Protection), and Domestic Violence since mid-2014. 

Michael has experience as a Separate Representative for children in Child Safety cases and has appeared on behalf of hundreds of people in Family Law and Domestic Violence cases in Queensland and the ACT.

Michael’s experience means he has a particularly keen insight into how to best avoid Court and he has an excellent record of settling cases quickly and without unnecessary conflict and cost. 

That said, he also knows how to best prepare and conduct litigation if Court becomes unavoidable, and he will expertly guide you through even the most complex and delicate case.

Michael takes a genuine interest in his clients and will make sure that you are properly advised in a way that is easy to understand, without all the unnecessary jargon that so many lawyers love to use. You can trust Michael to be direct, flexible, and empathetic. 

When he is not at work, Michael loves being in the outdoors, whether that’s fishing from his kayak or working in the garden. He also loves to cook and experiment in the kitchen.

Matthew Watt

Matthew Watt

Practice Manager – Founder

As one of the founders of BWJ Law, Matt is an indispensable member of the executive team. 

He plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day operations of the firm, focusing on implementing operational strategies and realizing the organization’s vision. 

This ensures that all employees are equipped with the necessary resources to perform at their best, delivering unparalleled service to clients.

An active member of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and an associate member of the QLD Law Society, Matt consistently stays updated with the latest in legal practice management. 

He recognizes the significance of continuous professional growth, ensuring that he offers the best support to legal practitioners. 

Moreover, he adeptly manages a diverse range of corporate and strategic responsibilities inherent to the role of a practice manager.