Family Law: Costs

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Party and party costs (what a person entitled to costs may recover), and the process in disputing an account for ‘fresh applications’ in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) is outlined in Chapter 12 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (the Rules).

Fresh applications are any of the following applications, including compliance with pre‑action procedures associated with them:

  • an Initiating Application
  • an application that includes an Initiating Application
  • an Application in a Proceeding filed in connection with a fresh application
  • an Application for Divorce
  • an Application for Consent Orders
  • a contempt, contravention or enforcement application
  • an application relating to contempt in the face of the Court
  • an appeal, and a re‑hearing following an appeal
  • an application for review of final orders made by a Registrar.

What are party and party costs?

Party and party costs are the costs payable by one party to another party under the Family Law Rules or by court order.

The costs that may be recovered are generally costs for the professional time of a lawyer, or for work done in a lawyer’s office and the costs (referred to as disbursements) paid out for work done in association with a case e.g. the costs of a process server.

The costs that a lawyer may charge must be calculated in accordance with the Scale of Costs in Schedule 3 of the Family Law Rules if the:

  • Court orders that costs are to be paid and does not fix the amount, or
  • costs are an entitlement under the Family Law Rules.

The Court may order that the Scale of Costs does not apply.

How to dispute an itemised account for party and party costs

A person entitled to costs where the amount has not been fixed must serve on the person who is liable to pay the costs, an itemised account and a copy of the Costs Notice.

Disputing an itemised costs account

It is your right to receive from the party entitled to costs, an itemised costs account that:

  • lists each item and the cost payable by date, description and amount, and
  • states any amount received or credited for the costs.

If you receive an account that states only a summary of work done and claims a lump sum, and you want an itemised costs account, you are entitled to make a request for it.

You have the right to dispute any part of the itemised costs account. There are strict time limits for taking action to dispute the itemised costs account. In special circumstances, time limits may be extended by making an application to the Court. You can obtain the documents you need to make this application by contacting the Court.

There are seven steps involved in disputing a costs account.

  • Step 1: Inform the party seeking payment of the costs that you dispute the itemised costs account by serving a Notice Disputing Itemised Costs Account on the lawyer.
  • Step 2: Contact the party seeking payment of the costs to discuss options for resolving the dispute.
  • Step 3: If the dispute is not resolved, either you or the party seeking payment of the costs can ask the Court to rule on the dispute. This is done by filing the Notice Disputing Itemised Costs Account and the itemised costs account with the Court.
  • Step 4: When the Notice Disputing Itemised Costs Account is filed, the Court will fix a date for a settlement conference, a preliminary assessment, or an assessment hearing. You will receive a Notice from the Court with the Court date. You must, as soon as practicable, serve that document on the party seeking payment of the costs to advise them of the date.
  • Step 5: Settlement Conference – both parties must attend or be represented by a lawyer.
  • Step 6: Preliminary Assessment – the parties do not attend.
  • Step 7: Assessment Hearing – both parties must attend or be represented by a lawyer.

More information and the relevant time limits for each step are outlined in the Costs Notice.

Legal advice

If you have any legal questions about costs, you should get legal advice. You can get legal advice from a:

  • legal aid office
  • community legal centre, or
  • private law firm.

Court staff can help you with questions about court forms and the Court process, but cannot give you legal advice.

For more information see, Legal Help.