Family Legal Advice Service (FLAS)
Changes to the way Care of Children Act (CoCA) proceedings are dealt with in the Family Court came about on 31 March 2014. Previously, a person would apply for legal aid (if eligible), meet with a lawyer, have their documents drafted and filed in Court, and their lawyer would be with them every step of the way.
The reforms in CoCA proceedings have focused on parties resolving matters themselves through mechanisms such as Family Dispute Resolution, with the Court as a last resort. Before parties may enter the court system they are required to have attended a Parenting Through Separation course and attempted Family Dispute Resolution mediation. The next step is to file or be served with Court documents. At this stage, lawyers may act and can assist with preparing the Court documents. An exception to these requirements is when there is an immediate risk of harm or hardship.
Instead of legal aid being immediately available for disputes under CoCA there is a new form of government funding called the Family Legal Advice Service (FLAS). The Funding comes in two parts and once that part of the service is complete, the client and lawyer relationship is complete. If Court is required, then parties may be eligible for Legal Aid. If Legal Aid is not available, a person may need to pay privately.
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FLAS part one covers the client’s rights and responsibilities in regards to their children and their legal options in the context of mediation.
FLAS part two covers advice around completing Court forms.
If further advice or help filling out forms is required once the two parts of FLAS have been completed, then the person will need to pay privately or seek help from a support worker, unless they are eligible to apply for legal aid.
Parties may be exempted from attending Parenting Through Separation if they have attended the course within the last two years or if they are unable to take part. They may be exempted from attending Family Dispute Resolution if the parties have reached agreement and are applying for a Consent Order or are applying to enforce an existing Order; if there has been domestic violence by one of the people involved in the dispute, or; if the mediator has reasonable grounds for deciding that FDR is inappropriate.
FLAS funding is means-tested but unlike legal aid doesn’t take into account a partner’s income or a person’s assets. It is a grant that does not need to be repaid. Once mediation is complete there is a three-month stand-down to give the agreement a chance. You can return to mediation after three months if there are any issues you can’t resolve. If you’re eligible for fully-funded mediation, you will only be able to access this twice in 12 months.