Legal costs in family law matters

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about legal costs in family law matters in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court).

Usually, parties who are involved in family law proceedings pay their own legal costs. However, there are exceptions to this. The Court may order one party to pay the legal costs of another.

How does the Court make a costs order?

The rules about costs are set out in Part 12 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Family Law Rules 2021).

Unless the Court otherwise orders, the amounts payable for a costs order are set out in:

  • in Division 1, the scale of costs in Schedule 3 to the Family Law Rules 2021; and
  • in Division 2, the scale of costs in Schedule 1 to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) (Family Law) Rules 2021 or the scale of costs in Schedule 3 to the Family Law Rules 2021

The Court may depart from either scale.

Where costs are ordered according to the scale, this is known as party-party costs.

Sometimes, the Court may order that a specific amount of costs be paid, or may apply another method for determining the amount of costs.

In exceptional circumstances, the Court may depart from the scale and order that another party pay all of a party’s costs reasonably and properly incurred. This is called indemnity costs.

Costs in contravention proceedings

Division 13A of the Family Law Act 1975 sets out how costs are awarded in contravention proceedings that affect children.

If the Court decides that a 'more serious' breach of an order has occurred, it must order costs against the person breaching the order, unless it would not be in the child's best interests. If the Court dismisses a contravention application, or finds that no action is required, and such a finding has been made previously, it must consider ordering costs against the person who filed the contravention application.

Taxation of costs

Where costs have been ordered to be paid, other than in a fixed amount, the party who is entitled to the costs being paid must serve an Itemised Costs Account on the party liable to pay the costs. If there is no dispute, the party liable then pays the amount as ordered.

If the party liable to pay costs seeks to dispute the Itemised Costs Account, they may file a Notice Disputing Itemised Costs Account. The parties must then make a reasonable and genuine attempt to resolve the costs dispute.

If the parties are unable to resolve their dispute, either party may file the Itemised Costs Account and the Notice Disputing Itemised Costs Account with the Court. The Court will then fix the first court date for the determination of the costs dispute.

The first court date is ordinarily a settlement conference, where the parties are given an opportunity to resolve the matter; however it may also be a preliminary assessment, where a registrar of the Court will give a preliminary assessment of the amount of costs to be paid; or an assessment hearing. If the matter does not resolve at the settlement conference or as a result of the preliminary assessment, the dispute will proceed to an assessment hearing. At this point, any dispute with respect to any item in the Itemised Account will be addressed by requiring amended or further documents to be filed as well as evidence of the costs claimed (such as file notes or process server invoices).

At the assessment hearing, a judicial registrar of the Court will determine the amount payable pursuant to the costs order, and also for the costs incurred as a result of the assessment where appropriate. At the end of the hearing, the Judicial Registrar must make a costs assessment order and give a copy to each party. At an assessment hearing, the Judicial Registrar may do a range of things including hear from witnesses, receive affidavits, and order a document be produced. 

This process is known as taxation (or assessment) of costs.

What are indemnity costs?

Where the conduct of a party warrants it (and only in exceptional circumstances), the Court can award all legal costs and disbursements that a party reasonably and properly incurred. These costs are known as indemnity costs.

How do I apply for costs?

You can file an application with the Court seeking a costs order. In some situations you can make an oral application for costs on the day of your court hearing. For more information about applying for a costs order speak to court staff or obtain advice from a lawyer.

How can I dispute the fees charged by my lawyer?

If you are not happy with the fees charged by your lawyer, you should first explain your concerns to your lawyer and attempt to resolve the dispute.

The Court is not responsible for overseeing private fee arrangements between a lawyer and client. These are known as solicitor-client costs.

If you wish to dispute the fees charged by your lawyer, you need to contact the law society or institute in your state or territory.

For Division 2 – Schedule 1: Scale of costs in family law and child support matters

Scale of costs in family law and child support matters

Item

Column 1
Description

Column 2
Amount (including GST)

1

Initiating or opposing an application up to the completion of the first court date

Both:

(a) $2,357; and

(b) the daily hearing fee specified in item 13 that applies to the hearing

2

Initiating or opposing an application that includes interim orders (other than procedural orders) up to the completion of the first court date

Both:

(a) $2,947 and

(b) the daily hearing fee specified in item 13 that applies to the hearing

3

Initiating or opposing an application for interlocutory orders (including an interim hearing) that is not otherwise described in item 1 or 2

Both:

(a) $1,964; and

(b) the daily hearing fee specified in item 13 that applies to the hearing

4

Procedural or summary hearing‑—as a discrete event

$1,964

5

Conciliation conference (including preparation)

$1,964

6

Other dispute resolution (including preparation)

$1,964

7

Preparation for final hearing‑—1 day matter

$5,022

8

Preparation for final hearing‑—2 day matter

$6,227

9

Preparation for final hearing‑—each additional hearing day after the second hearing day

$1,334

10

Attendance at hearing to take judgment and explain orders

Both:

(a) $321; and

(b) the daily hearing fee specified in item 13 that applies to the hearing

11

Application location, recovery or enforcement of an order (other than an application for enforcement by a Registrar under item 12)

Both:

(a) $997; and

(b) the daily hearing fee specified in item 13 that applies to the hearing

12

Application for enforcement by a Registrar of:

(a) a warrant under rule 11.15; or

(b) a third party debt notice under rule 11.34

$659

13

Daily hearing fee

(a) for a short mention‑—$321; or

(b) for a half day hearing‑—$1,178; or

(c) for a full day hearing‑—$2,357

14

Advocacy loading

50% of the daily hearing fee specified in item 13 that applies to the hearing

15

Drafting, conferences and chamber work (not otherwise covered by other items in the table)

(a) Senior Counsel—$677 per hour;

(b) Junior Counsel—$361 per hour;

(c) Solicitor—$260 per hour

16

Disbursements‑—Court fees and other fees and payments to the extent that they have been reasonably incurred

The amount of the fees and payments

17

Disbursements‑—photocopying for each page

$0.81

18

Agents fees and travelling costs

Note:      For 2 or more hours travel.

$663

For Division 1 – Schedule 3: Scale of costs in family law and child support matters

Part 1 – Costs allowable for lawyer’s work done and services performed

Costs – lawyer’s work

Item

Matter for which charge may be made

Amount (including GST)

101

Drafting a document (other than a letter)

$22.09 per 100 words

102

Producing a document (other than a letter) in printed form

$7.53 per 100 words

103

Drafting and producing a letter (including a fax or an email)

$25.36 per 100 words

104

Reading a document

$10.33 per 100 words

105

Scanning a document (if reading is not necessary)

$4.05 per 100 words

106

For a document or letter referred to in item 101, 102, 103, 104 or 105 containing more than 3,000 words

The amount allowed by the Registrar

107

Photocopy or other reproduction of a document

86 cents per page

108

Time reasonably spent by a lawyer on work requiring the skill of a lawyer (other than work to which any other item in this Part applies)

$259.22 per hour

109

Time reasonably spent by a lawyer, or by a clerk of a lawyer, on work (other than work to which any other item in this Part applies)

$168.05 per hour

Note: See rule 12.23 in relation to item 104.

Part 2 – Costs allowable for counsel’s work done and services performed

Costs — counsel’s work

Item

Matter for which charge may be made

Amount (including GST)
Senior counsel

Amount (including GST)
Junior counsel

201

Chamber work (including preparing or settling any necessary document, opinion, advice or evidence, and any reading fee (if allowed))

$498.54–$854.67
per hour

$297.62–$424.49
per hour

202

Attendance at a conference (including a court‑appointed conference), if necessary

$498.54–$854.67
per hour

$297.62–$424.49
per hour

203

Attendance of less than 3 hours (for example, a procedural hearing or a summary hearing)

$498.54–$3,560.98

$266.27–$1,247.74

204

A hearing or trial taking at least 3 hours but not more than 1 day

$925.85–$7,122.64

$882.79–$2,040.64

205

Other hearings or trials

$2,350.35–$7,122.64
per day

$2,103.90–$3,092.44
per day

206

Reserved judgment

$498.54–$854.67
per hour

$297.62–$424.49
per hour

Part 3 – Basic composite amount for undefended divorce

Costs — undefended divorce

Item

Matter for which charge may be made

Amount (including GST)

301

If the lawyer employed another lawyer to attend at court for the applicant and there is a child of the marriage under 18

$1,094.88

302

If the lawyer employed another lawyer to attend at court for the applicant and there is no child of the marriage under 18

$814.59

303

If the lawyer did not employ another lawyer to attend at court for the applicant and there is a child of the marriage under 18

$1,027.92

304

If the lawyer did not employ another lawyer to attend at court for the applicant and there is no child of the marriage under 18

$769.16

305

If the lawyer did not attend at court for the hearing under section 98A of the Act

$661.79

Part 4 – Basic composite amount for request for Enforcement Warrant or Third Party Debt Notice

Costs — Enforcement Warrant or Third Party Debt Notice

Item

Matter for which charge may be made

Amount (including GST)

401

An Enforcement Warrant under rule 11.16

$661.79

402

A Third Party Debt Notice under rule 11.34

$661.79

This fact sheet provides general information only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court.

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