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 parties are also required to file and be served their own court documents, and attend Court themselves until the Court directs that lawyers may act. An exception is when there is an immediate risk of harm or hardship.
The law is very new in this area so there is still much work to be done to clarify when lawyers may and may not act in a CoCA matter, but this will resolve itself over time.
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 the person ceases to be a client of the law firm each time the FLAS service is provided. If the Court directs lawyers to act (or if there are certain other circumstances) then the parties might be eligible for Legal Aid.
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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 help 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 effectively. 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.