Mondovo

Category

Articles

Family Law

What is the Family Law PPP500 List?

By | Articles, Family Law

In response to concerns about delays in the Family Court system, particularly for matters with a small asset pool, the Federal Circuit Court has developed the Family Law Priority Property Pool 500 List (PPP500).

It is a specialist list designed for matters where the net assets of the parties including superannuation is or is likely to be less than $500,000.  Additionally, there must not be any Trusts or Corporate Structures which would require expert investigation and the matter cannot involve any other aspect of Family Law, such as parenting or child support issues.

The PPP500 has specialized case management processes comprising:

  1. Registrar led resolution where couples are assisted in reaching agreement in the shortest possible time; and
  2. Short form Judge managed lists which apply a procedurally simpler process to the determination phase of a matter.

Close monitoring and scrutiny will be had of compliance with orders for disclosure and valuation with a focus on reducing delays and provide the parties with expanded opportunities to take ownership of their dispute resolution.

The two phases of the PPP500 proceed, in a general sense as follows:

In the PPP500, the usual requirement for filing of an Affidavit and Financial Statement is dispensed with, resulting in the costs to commence proceedings being greatly reduced.  There is a specific PPP500 Financial Summary document which is to be filed at the time of filing the Application or Response.

Stages 1 – 4 set out above are expected to be completed within 90 days of filing where possible and the trial process is expected to be conducted promptly and if possible without the need for traditional trial (which results in delays).

The process is expected to and has to date, produced expeditious and effective results in matters which are simple and have asset pools which are not conducive to lengthy delays in the Court system which would result in the asset pool being eroded by significant legal fees.

Of course the process requires practitioners and parties who are focused on resolution and focusing on the big picture rather than the small minute details.

How can OMB Family Law help?

At OMB Family Law our focus is on prompt and efficient resolution of matters which result in parties exiting the Family Law system without lengthy delays.  With strategic and pragmatic advice we will guide you through your property settlement matter and recommend the use of the PPP500 where appropriate and necessary.

lighthouse project

What is the Lighthouse Project?

By | Articles, Family Law

In August 2020, the Family Law Courts (the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court) launched The Lighthouse Project, being piloted through a handful of Registries, of which Brisbane is one.

It is the Court’s recognition that the intersection between Family Violence and the Family Law system is complex and requires specific and detailed attention.

The Lighthouse Project is a screening and management program to assess risk to families within the system and having a focus on improving outcomes for families in the family law system.

The project involves:

  1. Early Risk Screening through a secure online platform

When an Application for Parenting Orders is filed through the online court portal, the parties will be asked to complete a confidential and secure questionnaire via the Family DOORS Triage. 

  1. Triage

The Family DOORS Triage system has been specially designed for Family Law and considers a range of safety risks that arise frequently in family law matters.  The answers to the questionnaire are referred to a highly skilled team of family counsellors who will assess risk as being HIGH, MEDIUM and LOW risk.

High-Risk cases will be referred for immediate action through a video, telephone or face to face conference with a family counsellor.   The Counsellor will provide a detailed risk assessment, safety and wellbeing plan for the person and referrals to appropriate support services.

Medium Risk cases will be offered safety planning and service referrals and will be considered for a range of case management pathways based on the individual needs of the case.

Low-Risk cases will be processed through court-ordered dispute resolution.

  1. Case Management

After assessment through the Family Doors Triage system, the matter will be dealt with by a dedicated team of highly skilled professionals including registrars, family consultants and support staff with specialized training in family safety risks and family violence.

  1. The Evatt List

Those families assessed as being High Risk and most vulnerable will have their matter managed through the Evatt List which focuses on early information gathering and intervention, through a judge-led support team.  This team will have specialized training and experience in working with families who are at high risk.

Why The Lighthouse Project?

It is the Court’s response to calls for the family law system to deal with family violence and risk better.  These calls have been made in a number of reports and commissions over the last 10 years.

It is a detailed and dedicated response to a growing crisis in our community, with statistics showing that women, men and children are at increased risk of death or injury at the hands of their partner or parent.

How can OMB Family Law help?

When taking instructions from you, concerns about family violence and risk of abuse and harm are discussed such that we can assess the best way to proceed with your matter.  Upon receiving instructions from you to commence proceedings we will work with you to complete the necessary screening questionnaire through The Lighthouse Project and be with you every step of the way through your parenting matter.

Protecting a child through a “No Time and No Communication Order”

By | Articles, Family Law

Extreme behaviour resulting in extreme orders

The Family Law Act states clearly that a child has a right to know and have a relationship with each of their parents.  However, there are some circumstances within which having that relationship will cause a child more harm than good.  That harm can be emotional, physical, sexual, or psychological.

Most often the Court protects children from risk of harm through supervision of their time with the parent whom they consider poses a risk to the child.  However, in rare circumstances that protection can only be afforded through a “No Time” Order.

The Family Court at Brisbane on 29 June 2020 made such an Order and additionally declared the Mother a “Vexatious Litigant” which is another rarely used power.

The matter of Taggart & Taggart (No2) [2020] FamCA 520 came before the Family Court of Australia for final hearing after some 6 years of constant litigation.  It was listed in the height of the COVID-19 restrictions but was a matter the Court determined needed to proceed and in person.

At the outset it is important to note that the Mother chose not to participate in the trial.  She did not file material.  The parties were advised prior to the trial that personal attendance was required, and that appropriate and safe physical distance measures were to be put in place by the Court.  The Court determined to proceed in the mother’s absence with Her Honour’s judgement clearly confirming why that occurred.

The facts of the matter are colourful to say the least and we will not repeat verbatim some of the words used by the Mother, but it is important to know the background in order to understand why Her Honour Justice Carew determined the matter as she did.

  • There was one child the subject of the dispute, a boy who is 11 years of age. The parents had been involved in litigation regarding his care since he was only 5 years of age.
  • In September 2016, an Order was made providing for the Father to have sole parental responsibility, for the child to live with him and spend time with the Mother.
  • The Mother never accepted that outcome and because of two instances of her withholding the child from the Father, in October 2018 an Order was made for the Mother’s time to be supervised.
  • From October 2018 until March 2020 the Mother spent only one occasion of supervised time with the child.

The Court was tasked with considering the following issues for determination:

  • Is the child at an unacceptable risk of harm from the Mother given her views of the Father and his family?
  • Would the mother return the child to the Father should she have time with the child?
  • What would be the impact on the child if he had long term supervised time with the Mother or no time or communication with the Mother?
  • Should the Mother be declared a vexatious litigant?

As a result of the Mother’s failure to attend, the Court considered this as effectively an application to adjourn the trial.  This Application was denied for the following reasons:

  1. The Mother failed to file any material, begging the question of what involvement she proposed to have in the trial in any event.
  2. The Mother made no formal application for adjournment nor provided any evidence of her particular risk or vulnerability to COVID-19.
  3. At the time of hearing there was only 5 active cases of COVID-19 in Queensland.
  4. There was no public health directive prohibiting the parties attending at Court.
  5. At the first date of trial Queenslanders could attend restaurants, hotels, and travel on public transport.
  6. Safety measures had been put into place.
  7. The interests of the child were such that a long history of litigation had to be ended.
  8. Electronic means of conducting the matter were not considered appropriate.
  9. The Father who was privately funding the matter and the ICL opposed the adjournment.

Thereafter Her Honour considered each of the issues for determination.

In the 2016 judgment the Court found that the Mother and her family had a highly negative view of the Father and they ere unable to hide those feelings. In fact, the Mother and her family had nothing positive at all to say about the Father.

At that time, the Family Report noted the mother as saying

  • He should get out of our lives
  • Just leave us alone and go away

Not surprisingly the Family Report concluded that the Mother was willing to make regular derogatory and denigrating statements that demoralized the Father’s person, suggesting her behaviour is regular and comments without restraint.  In possibly the most unhelpful move for a litigant she referred to the 2016 trial Judge as “a piece of crap” in the Family Report and in court events.

The first time the mother saw the child after the 2016 judgement she took him to the Police complaining of him being beaten by the Father.

In 2018 two recovery orders had to be made against the Mother who withheld the child from the Father and from school.

The Mother does not accept the child’s medical diagnosis and indicated to the Contact Centre that she was not going to follow the necessary dietary requirements.  She also advised the Centre that one of her goals for supervision was to “prove to dickhead” that she did not need supervision.

When the Mother finally saw the child in 2020 she threatened to punch the Centre coordinator in the face and levelled vile and expletive riddled abuse at staff, including on an occasion she thought her son was inside the Centre. Thankfully, he was not.

The 2020 Family Report opined that the Mother’s anger is unrelenting and entrenched. She does not trust the Father; she sees nothing positive in him.  She had no insight as to why her time was being supervised and blamed the Court. The Court was asked to find the least detrimental alternative for the child, calling the current situation a “life tragedy” for the child.

Her Honour Justice Carew concluded that supervision would not ameliorate the risk to the child.

Unsurprisingly the Court found that the Mother would undoubtedly fail to return the child if she had unsupervised time and that long-term supervision was not appropriate.

Sadly, then the Court turned to the impact on this young man of not seeing nor speaking with his mother. Her Honour, with much sadness we have no doubt, concluded that this child will grieve for his mother but it was a case wherein he could not have a relationship with both of his parents in person or via any form of communication.

Finally, of the Court’s own volition it turned to the question of a Vexatious Proceedings Order pursuant to s102QB of the Family Law Act.  The judgement helpfully considers all the relevant authority in this regard, and having considered the authority and:

  1. The Mother’s 20 almost entirely unsuccessful interim applications from 2015 to the 2020 trial; and
  2. The Mother’s two appeals either abandoned or dismissed by the Court with costs

The Court declared the Mother vexatious requiring her to firstly seek leave of the Court pursuant to s102QE before being able to commence any further proceedings.

This matter involved the most extreme of behaviour on the part of a parent. In this matter it was the Mother, in other’s it is the Father, or the grandparent or other caregiver. However, it shows clearly that the Court does not distinguish between the gender of poor behaviour and will ultimately make tough decisions for the benefit of the child.

Child Support

Covid-19 and Binding Child Support Agreements – When Binding simply cannot be Binding

By | Articles, Family Law

When parents seek to formalize their child support matters, it is becoming increasingly common for them to have certainty and security in that regard and for this reason, Binding Child Support Agreements are sometimes considered an agreement of choice.

A Binding Child Support Agreement enables parents to effectively oust the jurisdiction of the Child Support Agency and document their own private arrangement about how much child support is to be paid, and the manner in which it is paid. Payments can be made directly to schools, or activity providers and include apportionment of Private Health Insurance and other medical expenses in lieu of (or in addition to) a cash payment.

Provided it complies with relevant statutory requirements, a Binding Child Support Agreement is most difficult to set aside.  Those requirements are as follows:

  • It must be in writing, signed by both parents and/or the eligible non-parent care giver
  • It must include a statement that each party has received independent legal advice as to the effect of the agreement on their rights and the advantages and disadvantages of the agreement, such advice having to be provided prior to the signing of the agreement.
  • It must include as an annexure, a certificate of advice from the relevant legal practitioners.

Once prepared and executed correctly, the limited circumstances within which a Binding Child Support Agreement can be set aside by the Court (of course unless the parties agree to set it aside) if the Court is satisfied that there are:

  • Exceptional circumstances
  • Which have arisen since the agreement was made
  • Which would mean a party to the agreement or a relevant child will suffer hardship if it is not set aside.

The current COVID-19 Global Pandemic and its resultant economic effects will undoubtedly be impacting the capacity for many parents to pay Child Support, whether because of a Binding Child Support Agreement or pursuant to an Assessment or a private arrangement.

This exact circumstance brought parties before the Family Court of Australia in June 2020 with a judgment being delivered by Justice McClelland this month.

In the matter of Martyn & Martyn [2020] FamCA 526 the following circumstances were presented to the Family Court:

  • The parties had entered into a Binding Child Support Agreement which was dated 16 August 2012.
  • On 13 January 2020 the paying parent, the Father, applied to the Court to set aside the Binding Child Support Agreement pursuant to s136 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.
  • The Father owned and operated a business which supplied products to internationally based businesses.
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect on international commerce, the Father’s business was functioning at a significantly reduced capacity.
  • The Father had acquired the business in 2015 with high hopes and dreams.
  • As early as August 2016 the Father indicated an intention to seek to apply to reduce the amount of Child Support payable.
  • There were proceedings commenced in the Federal Circuit Court in October 2016 within which various Orders including a stay on collection of payments pursuant to Agreement (provided that the Father pay a reduced amount per month).
  • By 2019 the Father’s business began to recover, however come May 2020, the Father deposed to the impact of COVID-19 on his business which was 90% based on manufacturing for international businesses. He indicated that all international orders were cancelled effective 27 March 2020 and by April 2020 he could not afford (on his case) any more than $120 per month by way of Child Support.
  • The arrears recorded by the Child Support Agency (based on the original agreement) was $31,928.22 as at May 2020. The Father sought to have the Court discharge these arrears.

The Court in Martyn explored what is meant by “exceptional circumstances” and “hardship” in determining the application.  His Honour noted that the authorities confirm:

  • We must construe exceptional as an ordinary adjective, not as a term of art. Out of the ordinary course, unusual, special or uncommon.  It need not be unique, unprecedented or very rare, but it cannot be one that is regularly, our routinely or normally encountered.

And what about “hardship”:

  • The concept involves a “hardness of fate or circumstance; severe suffering or privation”. Something more burdensome than “any appreciable detriment”.

Turning to the Father’s circumstances, the Court also turned its mind to a suspension of the Agreement rather than its termination, which was open to it.

In finding it appropriate to set aside the Agreement, rather than suspend it, the Court determined (at paragraph 72):

I decline to exercise a discretion to suspend rather than set aside the Agreement because there is an understandable absence of evidence as to the likely duration and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international commerce. In other words, it not possible to determine, on the basis of the evidence before the Court, whether it is likely that the father’s business would recover to the extent that he is capable of satisfying the obligation imposed upon him pursuant to the Agreement after any period of suspension.

In relation to the arrears component, the Court was not minded to discharge those amounts as it would effectively mean the Court would have to find that as at August 2017 (when the reduced payment was ordered by the Federal Circuit Court) there was in existence exceptional circumstances causing hardship.  Having found that the exceptional circumstances pertained to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Court declined that Application.

It is important to note that the Mother conceded the current financial crisis the business was in as a result of COVID-19 and the hearing was still required in order for the Court to make the Order, particularly with respect to the arrears.

This case will be one of many, in our view, in the near future regarding this and other compliance issues to do with property matters, arising as a result of these unprecedented times.

family law

Resolution – All you need is the will and wherewithal

By | Articles, Family Law

In my frequent review of recent Family Law decisions of the Family Law Courts (Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia) I stumbled across a first instance decision of Judge Neville of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia sitting in Canberra. It was interesting more for it’s discussion of three broad issues, rather than its outcome and those issues were:

  1. The critique of the lawyers and counsel for failing to comply with procedural orders, Practice Directions and for failing to perhaps progress the matter towards a resolution rather than “box on” in interim proceedings;
  2. The critique of the parties for their total immersion in effectively seeking to destroy the other; and
  3. The suggestion that the parties progress towards arbitration to resolve their matter.

For the law nerds out there, the link to the judgement is here. The critique of the lawyers carried with it a little more venom in circumstances whereby the Court had vacated the proposed trial dates due to Covid-19 restrictions but allowed the indulgence of the use of one of those dates for an urgent interim hearing, conducted by Video Link.

The matter involved the following issues:

  1. Interim parenting arrangements for two teenage girls in circumstances whereby they were considered to have been enmeshed in the proceedings by the mother and are estranged from the father.
  2. Interim property distribution and spousal maintenance; and
  3. A consideration of the failure of the lawyers to comply with orders and directions and how perhaps the parties can better focus to resolve the matter.

Parenting Matters

Sadly, this case involved two young girls of 13 years and 11 years of age respectively, who were completely embroiled in their parent’s dispute.

His Honour commented of this dispute, describing the parents as continuing “to fight, bicker, vent a range of deeply felt emptions and otherwise remain deeply embroiled in a very bitter and inexorably expensive contest”. And that the children were caught up in the maelstrom.

When pondering why children may continue to be “upset” in these circumstances, His Honour noted that the answer did not require “mystical revelation” and suggested the parents should sacrifice some of their contest in order to resolve matters for the sake of their children and back down from what he described as their “fight to the death” at whatever cost (financial, psychological and emotional) for them and their children.

Urging the parents to hear the “plaintive pleas” from their children and do whatever it takes to resolve matters.

It was apparent from the children and parent’s comments to the Family Report Writer that they were fully aware of the financial issues between the parents and the Mother’s opinion of the Father. The dispute was causing the 10-year-old to self-harm, and not even this could force the parents to put down their weapons and seek to resolve matters. “Mum told us he wanted the expensive furniture”, “Mum told us she tried so hard to keep the marriage together…she tried and he didn’t” “I would worry about her (referring to the Mother) if we saw him because it would be a lot of pressure for her”, are but a few examples of comments of a then 12 year old girl.

She went on to then say she would Kill the Judge if he made us go back there. Conversely the younger sister commented “everyone deserves a second chance” when asked about why she had recently chosen to visit with her dad. When asked about how she saw her parent’s role in her self-harming, the young girl said “I felt I had to choose sides. With all the stuff that was going on.  And so, when the police came that night, it made it easier”.

Summing up the observations of the children, Judge Neville stated:

  1. They know much more than they should.
  2. They were now “driving the parenting bus” rather than the parents; and
  3. In respect of the younger child, she displayed a maturity well beyond her years when she lamented “everyone deserves a second chance”.

If only her parents took a similar view.

When commenting on why a “let them choose” arrangement simply could not work, the Family Report writer noted that it was likely to result in the most minimal and poor-quality contact.  Why? Because the children were not free to exercise this choice outside of their mother’s pervasive influence, their need to protect her emotionally and their own internalized and distorted cognitions about their father (at paragraph 89).

The Court determined that it was “imperative” for the children to spend regular and consistent time with the Father (paragraph 112(f)) and put in place as best it could, a methodology for that to occur.

If ever there was a case to share with parties about how their behaviour could impact children of the ages these girls were, this would be one of the best in recent times, in all of its tragic glory.

Critique of the parties, lawyers, and Counsel for the manner in which they conducted the proceedings

On an interim basis, there exists a practice direction which details the number of affidavits that can be relied upon, their length and the limit on annexures.

Breach of that practice direction is at the practitioner’s risk (and the parties but more the practitioners). If leave is not granted to rely upon an affidavit in breach of this Practice Direction, then parties are required to strike out offending parts and they and their lawyers face costs Orders.

Often the Court will make directions for the filing of material and supporting submissions prior to an interim hearing. In this matter, the parties were limited to a two-page written outline addressing the issues to be determined.

The Father’s was just over two pages and leave was given for that extension.  The Mother, via her Senior Counsel filed submissions that ran to just on 7 pages. When raised with Senior Counsel, the response was that they had to be filed that way or he would have to do oral submissions on the matters. This response was described (at paragraph 20) as inappropriate, almost defiant, and presumptuous. The court noted that this conduct treated the Orders as suggestions or guidelines, which they were not. Suggestions as to how it could have been better handed by the Mother and her Counsel were made, and they are useful to take note of when reading the judgment.

Each of the parties filed affidavits in breach of the Practice Direction. Given that the listing was considered “quite an indulgence” the treatment of the Court by the parties (more directed towards the lawyers, whose responsibility it is to comply with the Practice Direction) was described as:

  • An affront
  • Poor
  • Uncontrite
  • Presumptuous

The long and the short message to parties and lawyers is simple. Comply with Orders and Practice Directions or it is at your peril.

Turning to the nature of the material filed, His Honour noted that (at paragraph 24):

There is more than an indication that neither of them can contain nor otherwise restrain detailed, voluble expression of their grief, frustration and much else besides, towards the other party.  Such feelings and all else are ventilated freely.  The consequence? A cycle of (a) accusation, response, reply and more, (b) the forwarding of these messages to the lawyers, who in turn print them out and attachment to affidavits, and (c) the parties get charged for their inability to control their pent up hostilities and other emotions.

The above may assist us all in reflecting on how matters are conducted in some circumstances.

How did the Court suggest this and other such similar matters be resolved?

The Court lamented at paragraph 129, about how much had been sent in every sense in the proceedings to date and commented that Family Law is effectively about problem solving. Even in dire circumstances committed parties and lawyers are able to craft solutions to the most “intransigent, seemingly intractable and delicate difficulties”. To do so simply needs willingness and wherewithal.

He posed the question, as I do regularly with clients “what would it be like to be free of the contest and the Court system”. It is a question that we all must put to our clients in an effort to be resolution focused.

More in the property space than the parenting matter, the Court referred the parties (and presumably their advisors) to the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules (Rule 7) which provides that we must advise our client about alternatives to fully contested adjudication of the case which are reasonably available to a client.

His Honour made the suggestion of arbitration and when looking at when that might occur (namely prior to Christmas 2020) suggested that would be a most wonderful Christmas present to the parties and their children (having the matters resolved that is).

Arbitration is however a voluntary process and whilst it is one that OMB Family Law fully advocates it must involve two willing parties and lawyers who have the capacity to decide how to resolve their matter.

Thanks for reading what turned into somewhat of an essay I did not plan to write today.  This judgment just rang so many bells for me in a time where high conflict seems the way to go, when, as Judge Neville commented, resolution requires only the will and wherewithal to be channeled into it.

family report lawyers

Everything You Need to Know About Family Reports

By | Articles, Family Law

When you and the other parent of your child or children, cannot reach an agreement on the living arrangements for your children after separation, and you have exhausted all avenues of dispute resolution, as a place of last resort, litigation can be commenced.

How though, when a Court is faced with two parents, with different views on what is best for their child or children and different perspectives on the history of their parenting relationship, is a Judge to sift through these different perspectives and make a decision in the best interests of the children?

A Judge does not meet your child.  They know them only as a name and as they are described by their parents.  This is where a Family Report comes into play.

Arguably the Family Report Writer is the second most powerful person in your parenting proceedings after the Judge.  Why is this so?

  • They are typically the only person who will meet both the parents and the child or children outside of the court room. They have the opportunity to interact with the children and observe them with their parents and significant others.  The observation aspect of the Family Report is more often than not more impactful than the interviews.
  • They are independent. Whilst appointed by a Court or the parties (if they are funding a private Family Report), they are independent in so far as they have no vested interest in your outcome.
  • They are experts in social sciences including psychology or psychiatry in some cases. They apply different knowledge bases and influences to assist the Court, rather than the lawyers speaking of things through a legal prism.

Family Reports can be undertaken prior to any litigation processes, as a further step along the way to resolving matters by agreement.  Even though not Court appointed in that event, the report will still hold significant weight by the Judge.

So, what is this seemingly all-powerful document called a Family Report?

It is a report prepared after interviews and observations which comments on the child’s views, wishes, experiences and family dynamics.  It then ties all of those matters together and makes recommendations.  Relevant family dynamics that may be explored include:

  • Parenting capacity or incapacity.
  • Domestic and family violence.
  • Drug or alcohol use or abuse.
  • Mental health or emotional health functioning and irregularities.
  • The child’s views and wishes (subject to their age and maturity level).
  • Special needs of the child or children.
  • The extended family dynamics including grandparents, aunts and uncles, new partners, siblings, stepsiblings, or half-siblings; and
  • Relevant cultural considerations for families of indigenous origins or other foreign cultures.

Whilst very important, it is oft quoted in the Family Law Courts, “Family Report Writer’s don’t make Orders, I make Orders” or such other variation of that decree.  They are simply a piece of evidence that is assessed along with all other evidence that is accepted by the Court.

Given the significance of a Family Report, it is important to prepare for your interviews appropriately.  Some things to remember:

  1. You will be assumed to be on your best behaviour, so you don’t have to put on any more of a front than you are.
  2. Dress respectfully and speak with the Family Report Writer respectfully and professionally. They are just doing their job.  Remember that anything you say can be reported verbatim to the Court.  A memorable quote from a Family Report that I saw some years ago, which made its way into the final judgement “You can tell Judge X that I don’t care what he says he is (insert many expletives here), I am doing what I want for Child X”.  Needless to say, that litigant was not viewed in a particularly favourable light.
  3. Be mindful that it is not just what is said during your direct interview that can be included in the report. Your interactions in waiting rooms with the staff of the Writer, with your ex and their new partner or family and with your children are all likely to be being observed and form part of the Writer’s assessment of you.
  4. Do not use the interview process as an opportunity to dig a thousand knives into your ex. Behaviour such as domestic violence, drug use or poor decisions are likely to be raised by the Family Report Writer and you will have an opportunity to address those concerns at that time.
  5. Be positive about the other parent. It astounds me the number of litigants who think that it is important to say all the bad stuff in order to “win”.  It is quite the converse.  Showing that you can see the good in the other parent and speak of them with kindness when it comes to their role in your children’s lives and how that is a positive for your children will produce a fair more accurate report.  The reality is the cases that a parent has NOTHING to offer to a child are extremely rare indeed.
  6. Do not be someone you are not. Be honest and candid.  Accept when you may have done things wrong, you are human and there are no perfect parents.
  7. You do not have to present them with “evidence” to support your case. It is likely that they will have or will eventually, read the court documents but as noted above, it is likely their observations and interactions with you and with your children will be more important to a social scientist.
  8. Do not coach your children about what to do and say during the interviews. There are age appropriate resources available via the Family Court Website to assist in what to say to children and how to say it.  Coaching will be patently obvious to an experienced Family Report Writer.

Where time permits, it is important to prepare for your Family Report interviews.  An experienced and expert Gold Coast Family Lawyer will be able to speak with you openly and honestly about their concerns for how you may present during the interviews and how to best combat any worrisome behaviour.

 

family law social media

Communication Extremes, Social Media Campaigns and Family Law Proceedings

By | Articles, Family Law

How being involved in extreme social media campaigns can affect the Court’s perception of a parent’s insight and child focus.

Judge Neville of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Caddell & Taggard [2020] FCCA 872 (published 1 June 2020) coined a number of colloquial phrases from popular culture and history in a recent judgement regarding the living arrangements for a three-year-old girl.  From Sherlock Holmes to Chief Justice Gleeson of the High Court of Australia to describing the Father as a “sitting duck”, Judge Neville sought to assist a self-represented litigant to understand how his conduct, perceived by him as genuine and non-aggressive, was actually damaging and harmful to his relationship with his daughter.

The Father’s “zeal” in the presentation of his evidence was considered so alarming by Judge Neville that he cautioned the Father that he was considering proceeding with the matter on a “show cause basis” meaning that the Father would need to show very good reason why the Court ought not make the Orders sought by the Mother. Not shielding the Mother and her legal representatives, nor the ICL from scrutiny, the Court identified that it could have been more assisted by the ICL undertaking a more careful examination of the mother’s evidence and adopting a “less is more” approach to the cross examination of the Father.  The Court noted that when it came to the Father’s cross examination, when a nail has been “hammered into the floor, it serves little purpose other than to inflict needless damage to drive it through the floor”.

The Father was described as a self-represented litigant who was flailing and raging against an array of forces, he perceived to be marshalled against him (it was all a conspiracy according to the Father).  That is what everyone “saw” according to Judge Neville.  But he suggested that the legal representatives ought to have “observed” that there were many other forces at work, including the Father not being able to seek how significant and damaging his conduct was.  The persistent and unrelenting cross examination of the Mother’s advocate was sought to be put to an end by the Court wherein the advocate indicated she had a right to put her client’s case forward in the time that was allocated.  This was considered not appropriate by His Honour.  Confirming what most experienced family law advocates know, His Honour indicated that when he tells an advocate that the utility of proceeding with cross-examination is unnecessary or unhelpful, it was clear guidance that nothing further was required to assist their client’s case.

The Father urged the Court to consider his conduct arising because he was “frustrated” and “annoyed” but not “angry”. The Court did not find favour with this distinction, finding often that the Father was not only angry, but “infuriated”.

The Father could not see that the prolific messages to the Mother (38 on one occasion alone to ask for more time) were more than “extreme” to the Mother. When further incidents of concerning behaviors were put to the Father, he repeated his mantra that he was not “angry” just “frustrated”.

It was the Father’s social media that were his own undoing.  His posts were very candid and public including on various Father’s Rights group pages and the Father’s Rights group he, himself ran.

Judge Neville stated specifically “Lest it not be clear, I regard the Father’s social medial posts to be extremely concerning in every relevant respect”. The Court considered that his social media posts to various “Fathers Groups” clearly presented the Father as he “unashamedly” saw himself, a “crusader” for the rights of oppressed Fathers, that he was their “champion” and someone who would go to any length to ensure that his rights as a Father were not stopped or thwarted by the Mother or anyone else.

After making Orders for the Mother to have sole parental responsibility for the child and a graduated time regime, the Court implored the Father to genuinely seek assistance about how to curb his impulsive and obsessive behaviour, curb his social media posts and to seek advice from experienced lawyers not online in the forums of “aggrieved personalities”

In a Court of impression, how you conduct yourself both inside and more importantly outside of the Court building is of utmost importance.  Guidance from experienced Family Law practitioners, who can speak about who a particular course of action may be perceived is invaluable to achieving an outcome which is in the best interests of your children. Before you post remember – Is it necessary? And when in doubt do not post!

Contact our Gold Coast lawyers on 55550000 to have a free and confidential discussion about your parenting matter or any family law dispute, we pull no punches and will give you honest and strategic advice.

Retail Shop Leases and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Regulation 2020

Breaking News: Retail Shop Leases and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19) Regulation

By | Articles, Property Law

BREAKING NEWS: New Regulation Just Released

The Queensland Government has released the regulations to accompany the Legislation which was enacted on 23 April 2020 dealing with retail and other commercial leases and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, the entire process has taken some considerable time from when the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet initially announced the mandatory code. Then came the Covid-19 Emergency Response Act 2020 on 23 April 2020 and finally, The Retail Shop Leases and other Commercial Leases (Covid-19 Emergency Response) Regulation 2020 on 28 May 2020.

Finally, the regulation provides certainty and clarity as to many of the details surrounding the relationship between commercial Landlords and Tenants in what has turned out to be one of the most contentious areas for businesses and investors alike during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are those details:

  1. To be eligible you must either have a Retail Shop Lease or a Lease of a premises which is wholly or predominantly used for carrying on a business.
  1. You must be a small to medium enterprise – generally a business with an annual turnover of less than $50,000,000.00.
  1. The Lessee must be an entity that is responsible for employing staff and is eligible for the Job Keeper Scheme.

In those circumstances the regulations apply, and a Landlord is not entitled to take any of the prescribed actions. Those include, taking recovery of possession, terminating the lease, eviction the Lessee, exercising rights to re-enter the premises, seizure of property, forfeiture, damages, seeking payment of interest or a fee related to unpaid rent, claiming on a Bank Guarantee or security deposit, seeking performance under a Guarantee or exercising a right under the lease relating to the lease premises.  These actions are prohibited where a Tenant has failed to pay rent, outgoings or is not open for business during the “response period”.

The “response period” is defined as commencing on 29 March 2020 and ending 30 September 2020. There had previously been some discussion if the legislation would apply retrospectively or would only apply from 23 April 2020.

In circumstances where there is a genuine attempt by a Landlord to negotiate rent, but the Lessee substantially fails to comply with their obligations under the lease or the grounds under which the Landlord takes action are not related to the effects of Covid-19 the Landlord will not be prevented from taking these courses of action.

The parties are required to negotiate rent and other conditions in good faith. The lessee will usually request a reduction in writing from the Landlord to begin those negotiations. This should include true and accurate information to enable the parties to negotiate a fair settlement. This includes provision of accurate financial information or statements about the turnover of the Lessees business.

Within 30 days of receiving such a request the Lessor must offer a reduction in rental in accordance with the regulations, this will include at least 50% of the rental reduction to be in the form of a Rental Waiver.

The reduction in rental and conditions relating to any reduction can be given effect by way of either a Variation of Lease or another agreement between the parties. The regulations provide for a further rent negotiation provision where one party may ask the other to renegotiate if there is a material change of the grounds upon which the agreement between the parties was based.

In relation to any portion of the reduction given by way of deferred rental, that deferred rental will be repayable using a method agreed between the parties over a period of at least 2 years but no longer than 3 years. The Landlord can continue to hold any security deposit until that deferred rental has been repaid.

Specific provision has been made for extending a lease and a Lessor must offer a Tenant an extension (on the same terms and conditions) for the period of the rental waiver or deferral. For example, if a rental waiver or deferral lasted for 6 months then the Landlord must offer to extend the Lease of the Tenant for a period of 6 months on the same terms and conditions, subject to the remaining clauses of the regulations.

This is only a brief outline of the regulations which are quite detailed, and we recommend you contact OMB’s Property Law Team to assist with all leasing matters.

 

Parenting Dispute

What Not to Do in a Parenting Dispute

By | Articles, Family Law

Whilst there is no one fits all strategy in a parenting dispute, there are some pretty safe rules or tips I give my clients when advising them on how to ensure their outcome – negotiated (preferably) or litigated – is something that reflects the best interests of the children. 

So, here’s my parenting matters “do not do” list:

  1. Don’t trash talk the other parentChildren exposed to negative views of their parents will often feel pressure to take sides. Even if you are in another room and you think they can’t hear, think again because kids often enjoy a sneaky listen to adult conversations.  Perhaps have another channel of stress relief rather than a good old “bitch” session.
  1. Don’t make your kids feel sad for you, intentionally or otherwiseThis isn’t even direct acts of seeking sympathy it can include unintentional or subconscious behaviour such as:
    • Crying in front of the kids
    • Telling them that their mum or dad is taking them to Court
    • Saying how sad you are about the relationship being over or about having to sell the house or move out.
  1. Don’t refuse to communicate with the other parentYour kids need to see you and their other parent getting along. The Court also takes a dim view of parents that intentionally refuse to communicate, as this may cause concern that you cannot promote the relationship between the child and the other parent.  You don’t need to be best friends, just be child focussed and polite.
  1. Don’t withhold time unless there are absolutely necessary reasons for doing soThe situations within which withholding time may be considered reasonable can include:
    • Violence towards the parent or child
    • Drug and alcohol abuse
    • Risk of sexual abuse
    • Emotional abuse, including the “trash” talk referred to above (but this would have to be extreme.
  1. Don’t make up “mud” and sling it just to try to get an advantageAllegations of abuse of drugs and alcohol will be monitored with appropriate testing, such that if there is or has been no problems, this will soon be found out.  Likewise, if you do have a problem and lie about it, this too will be found it.  Truth always is the best option.
  1. Don’t split up the kids, unless there are developmental or other reasons for doing soKeeping sibling units together is of most importance, however sometimes with massive age differences (say 7 years and a 6mth baby) there will need to be arrangements put in place that are appropriate for each of their developmental needs.
  1. Don’t think you know it all and don’t have to prepare for court appointed interviews or reportsThis preparation DOES NOT involve telling the children what to say or how to act.  What it means is that you need to consult with your lawyer about what the process will involve, the types of questions that may be asked and how to critically think about your behaviour and reflect on it appropriately.
  1. Don’t engage in behaviour that will see your kids play you and their other parent off against each otherYes, children will test your boundaries, but each parent needs to adopt a consistent enough approach to rules and structure.  Absence of this will encourage them to test the boundaries in both households, seizing the opportunity to gain an advantage by making either or both parents feel guilty.
  1. Don’t involve the kids in their parent’s arguments, show them court documents or tell them about the “judge” making them do things etc.You are your child’s hero and information provided in family law proceedings is just not information your child needs to know.  This may have the effect of negatively impacting their view of their other parent, who, whilst you do not like too much right now, is still their hero.
  1. Don’t talk about “your” rights instead of focusing on the best interests of your children, even when those interests do not align with what you “want

Parents do not have rights when it comes to children. The Family Law Act makes no provision for this. Children have rights.  Deeply entrenched parental conflict can result in parent’s forgetting this. Before you make a decision to take a step or engage in conduct, stop and think about why you are doing this and how or whether it is in the best interests of your children. If it is not, then simply, do not do it.

Taking the time to consider the above will hopefully assist you in moving your parenting matter forward in the best interests of your children. OMB Solicitors family law Partner Abbi Golightly is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law and a recommended Family Lawyer for complex parenting disputes by the Doyles Guide. Using these skills and knowledge we will guide you through your parenting matter with the best interests of your children as the paramount concern. Contact us on 07 5555 0000 for your free initial consultation.

The Covid-19 List

The Covid-19 List: How to have Your Matter Listed Urgently During the Covid-19 Pandemic

By | Articles, Family Law

The latest practice direction from the Family Law Courts (the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) provides the “how, what, when and where” of the new Covid-19 List established to assist separated families in the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The full practice direction can be found here.

The Court has set out the criteria for inclusion on the specialist list as follows:

  1. The application must be necessitated as a direct result of the pandemic;
  2. The matter must be urgent
  3. The application must be supported by Affidavit which addresses the mandatory criteria as follows:
    1. Why it is urgent
    2. How the dispute is as a direct result of Covid-19
    3. Details of current allegations of risk (such as abuse or family violence)
    4. Details of the reasonable attempts to resolve the matter by negotiation
    5. Details of how the proposed Respondent(s) can be provided with the court documents including a current email address
    6. If possible, provide (even by way of photos) a copy of the current orders, parenting plans and family violence orders
  4. If safe to do so, you must have attempted reasonably, to resolve the dispute;
  5. The matter must be capable of being dealt with by electronic means

The list will be managed by the Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court and will be present in each registry of the Court. Registrars will assess urgency, as is the normal procedure and “triage” them to the COVID-19 List Judge.

In a measure designed to ensure that truly urgent applications are dealt with urgently, the direction is that must be listed within three (3) business days or less if critically urgent.

If found to not meet the criteria for the COVID-19 List, then the matter will be allocated in the usual course of events to a docket Judge in the relevant registry.

As the list will be managed nationally and electronically, your appearance could be before any Judge in any registry around Australia. The Court will however ONLY be dealing with the discrete Covid-19 application and putting in place arrangements to deal with those specific issues.

In order to assist litigants in person particularly, the Practice Direction identifies some example scenarios as to what matters may fit into the Covid-19 List:

  1. Where the current orders are for supervised time and the relevant centre or provider is unable to supervise as a result of their closure or government requirements
  2. Where border restrictions result in the inability for parents and children to travel between homes
  3. Where parents or children have tested positive for Covid-19 or cannot fulfil their parenting obligations as a result of concerns of infection
  4. Where the risk of family violence has increased as a result of the restrictions on movement imposed by the government during the pandemic.

Gold Coast Lawyers at OMB Solicitors can assist urgently with preparation and filing of an Application for inclusion in the Covid-19 List. We have in place all necessary technologies to ensure we can meet with you electronically and attend to filing of material swiftly, such that your parenting arrangements can be managed appropriately during the current global environment.

Contact Abbi Golightly, our Partner and Accredited Specialist in Family Law on 07 5555 0000 for an urgent free initial consultation.

Body Corporate Levy

How to Respond to Lot Owner Questions about Levies

By | Articles, Body Corporate

Can the body corporate change the levies?

While a committee is responsible for day-to-day management of the body corporate (within its expenditure limits), the legislation does not allow a committee to change the budgets set by lot owners at an annual general meeting.

Can we adjust the budgets?

A body corporate can approve the adjustment of its budgets for the administrative and sinking funds at a general meeting. The committee is responsible for preparing the draft budget and will need to act reasonably in considering the nature and extent of any budget adjustments.

What does the body corporate need to consider?

If lot owners are struggling to pay their levies in accordance with the contribution notice issued by the Body Corporate, then the Committee can address the specific concerns of the individual lot owner on a case by case basis.

It is also important to consider the specific needs of your own body corporate (ie, does it have a small or large number of lots; does it have a paid caretaker; does it a high rise or a town house complex ect).

One size does not fit all!

Some bodies corporate have entered into long-term maintenance and service agreements prior to the COVID-19 crisis that requires them to pay a fixed amount each month for a caretaker or service provider to look after all the common property. That includes areas that are not restricted from use, like foyers, lifts, gardens and grounds.

Committees should work with their body corporate managers and other strata industry professionals to appropriately identify and weigh up the extent of any costs which may be variable or possible to renegotiate before committing to any change to their budgets.

There can be serious adverse legal consequences for bodies corporate if they breach these agreements.

What if lot owners cannot pay their levies?

If lot owners do not pay levies, they may lose discounts given to those who make timely payments. They may be liable for penalty interest of up to 2.5% per calendar month (30% per annum) and reasonably incurred recovery costs, which can include administration and legal costs. These additional costs and interest can seriously exacerbate the financial impact of unpaid levies on lot owners.

A body corporate committee may (without calling the general meeting) decide on a case by case basis to reinstate lost discounts, waive penalty interest and/or agree to a payment plan with a lot owner.

What can a lot owner do?

  • A lot owner should inform the body corporate committee early if they are having financial hardship in trying to pay levies – rather than letting your levies fall into arrears, incurring interest and recovery costs.
  • Speak to your bank, loan institution, accountant, lawyer or other advisor to help you pay your levies.
covid family law

Family Law and COVID-19. Your Questions Answered

By | Articles, Family Law

Confusion, concern and worry about your Family Law issues in these Covid-19 pandemic times is understandable.  Abbi Golightly an accredited specialist in Family Law and partner at OMB Solicitors offers some guidance with her COVID Q & A.

Are the Court’s still open?

Yes, however procedures have been put in place conducting hearings mostly by telephone or video conferencing. 

Will my court date still go ahead?

Yes, in the majority they will proceed although some matters which are considered “not urgent” will be adjourned to a future date, to allow urgent matters to be dealt with. 

What do I do if I feel concerned for my safety?

If you are in immediate danger, call 000.  The Court is prioritising urgent matters concerning the safety of children, dealing with them via telephone or video conference. 

I am isolating – do I have to physically go to Court?

Generally speaking, no. The Court has implemented a new “Face-to-face in-court Protocol” to ensure that social distancing requirements are strictly followed.  Contact a Family Lawyer to discuss the specifics of these protocols. 

My matter had an appointment for an interview to get a report, how will this work?

The Court will contact you to make arrangements.  Adults will be contacted by phone or video.  If children need to be interviewed, an assessment will happen about how that will occur.  If those interviews have to occur face-to-face, then the interviews will follow the required protocol. 

How might COVID-19 impact my parenting arrangements?

The court is aware that strict compliance with parenting orders may not be possible and in fact may be impossible.  The best option is to try to reach an agreement with the other parent and failing that contact a specialist family lawyer for advice.  In the highly unusual circumstances, which Australian families now face, there may be situations that make compliance very difficult.  The Court expects parents to continue to act in the best interests of the children and act reasonably.

How can I change my parenting agreement or order?

  • Communicate with the other parent and if agreed, it should be documented in writing, even by text message. 
  • Get help to reach an agreement.  Contact a Family Relationships Centre, or your family lawyer who can help you by phone, video call or other contactless means. 

If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact our Gold Coast lawyers for a free, initial consultation.

COVID-19 - Closing of Common Property Facilities

COVID-19 – Closing of Common Property Facilities

By | Articles, Body Corporate

A number of lot owners have been asking “are my levies going to be reduced/discounted if the committee closes the gym”?

This question stems from the Government’s decision to close the use of recreation facilities in the public.

So what about a body corporate?

This article focuses on the operation of common property facilities during this Pandemic – that is, pools, gyms, BBQ facilities and surrounding areas.

Government Regulations and Restrictions

Common property facilities are technically considered part of the private property of a body corporate.

The Government imposed regulations and restrictions for public use pools, gyms and other facilities, have recently been amended to apply to bodies corporate and its facilities.

These restrictions are in addition to the Government rules relating to social distancing and prevention of spreading COVID-19. These rules apply to everyone and every household, apartment and in turn, your body corporate.

So what facilities must the body corporate close and are there any facilities or common property that a body corporate may keep open, subject to social distancing?

Regulation of Common Property Facilities in COVID-19 Pandemic

The starting point is that bodies corporate (and its owners and occupiers) should ensure they are each doing their bit to comply with the Government imposed regulations and restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.

The decision to keep open or close areas of common property requires consideration of many factors.

Queensland Health has published (on 31 March 2020) an extensive list of non-essential business, activity and undertakings that must be closed.

A link to that direction is here.

A number of activities, which are considered facilities within bodies corporate, are now included in this list. We outline the main common property facilities that must be closed below:

  1. Swimming pools;
  2. Spas;
  3. Barbeques;
  4. Recreation rooms;
  5. Gyms (indoor and outdoor); and
  6. Saunas.

Regarding any other social sporting-based activities, these may still operate but that is limited to two (2) people with social distancing observed.

An example of this would be a common property tennis court.

If there are other facilities that are not required to be closed and a body corporate wishes to keep those facilities open, it may need to consider new regulation of the use of those facilities to comply with the COVID-19 restrictions. This is done by updating the scheme’s by-laws.

To amend the by-laws requires the body corporate to hold a general meeting (i.e. AGM or EGM).

If the facilities stay open, it is likely that the body corporate may need to consider additional and professional cleaning/sanitising of the facilities. This will be an additional expense.

Reduced Costs?

If schemes are required to close majority of their facilities – will there be a reduction in levies?

The short of it is that levies must still be paid by owners.

If a body corporate can reduce its maintenance costs of facilities, then it is likely the future levies may reduce due to a surplus evolving from what was budgeted.

Bodies corporate can consider managing any surplus by reducing levies for the next financial year or applying credits to owners’ accounts (especially against owners’ accounts that may have lost employment and are behind in payment of their current levies).

Otherwise, a body corporate can adjust the current levies (resolved at its last Annual General Meeting (AGM)) however, this will require the calling and holding of an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to modify levy amounts. Careful consideration is required when considering this option.

Summary

Each body corporate will need to consider what is in the best interests of the scheme.

Bodies corporate should familiarise itself with the recent direction published by Queensland Health to ensure that they comply with the compulsory closure of facilities.

Fines will issue if there is a breach of these health directions.

Gold Coast lawyers at OMB Solicitors, we can assist those bodies corporate that wish to continue to provide facilities that are not required to be closed by preparing revised by-laws to regulate the use of the facilities in accordance with the Government regulations and restrictions.

Regarding the compulsory closure of non-essential activities/facilities, OMB Solicitors can assist in preparing correspondence to all owners and occupiers outlining that requirement.

COVID & Landlords of Commercial & Retail Premises

News Alert: COVID & Landlords of Commercial & Retail Premises

By | Articles, Property Law

As promised, here is the latest update on the evolving situation with Landlord and Tenants on Commercial, Industrial and Retail Premises. The Prime Minister has announced this afternoon that the National Cabinet has met and has made some decisions around this space, which we have all been waiting for.

Most importantly, it has been announced that the National Cabinet have introduced a Mandatory Code which will be legislated in each State. Landlords and Tenants are required to comply with the terms of this Mandatory Code.

The code will require Landlords and Tenants to negotiate in good faith. Landlords aren’t going to be able to terminate a Lease and Tenants are going to have to comply with the remaining terms of the lease.

The Code will apply where the business of either the Landlord or the Tenant has suffered as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, so that either business is an eligible business under the governments recently announced Commonwealth JobKeeper program and has a turnover of less than $50 Million.

The parties are then going to have to reach an agreement whereby the proportionate amount of reduction in a Lease rental will apply in cases where the Job Keeper Program already applies to that business. The reference to the Proportionate amount is the amount of reduced turnover of the Business suffered as a result of the  Covid-19 Pandemic.

In that circumstance and if those provisions apply, then the rental will be required to be reduced proportionate to the reduction in the business (for example if a business’s turnover has reduced by 50%, that business will see a 50% reduction in the rental for the period of the Pandemic). This rent reduction can be made up of “rental waiver” and “rent deferral”.

In respect of those proportions the  “rent free” proportion must make up at least 50% of the rental relief. The “rent deferral” component can be deferred and paid back over a period of not less than 12 months, but usually will be paid back over the remaining term of the lease (for example if the remaining term of the lease is longer than 12 months it would be paid back over the entire term, however if the lease term is shorter than 12 months that tenant will still have 12 months to repay those rent monies).

Rental increases under a lease will be frozen and penalties and interest charges will not be able to be charged, nor can guarantees or bonds be called upon.

These are important changes as the landscape is constantly changing and as things arise further, I will continue to keep you updated. Please remember though any agreements reached between Landlords and Tenants must be documented as the potential disputes in the future will be greater than the problem itself.

Please keep safe and if you have any queries whatsoever please do not hesitate to contact our Gold Coast lawyers.

How Landlords Should Respond to COVID-19

How Landlords Should Respond to COVID-19

By | Articles, Property Law

We understand that being a Landlord at the moment is an extremely difficult time. We all await further clarification from the Federal Government as to what incentives, if any, will be offered to Commercial Landlords to assist with concessions that may need to be made with their Tenants. Some Australian Banks have announced they will defer loan repayments on loans up to $10 million dollars for Landlords that provide certain assistance to Tenants.

There are a number of incredibly important considerations for a Landlord during this time including maintaining a relationship with Tenants, ensuring that once we emerge from this crisis that your commercial premises have sustainable tenancies and businesses that can hopefully rebound and continue to operate and add value to your properties and the ongoing consideration of ensuring you have sufficient income to meet your financial needs.

With this in mind, a number of Landlords have been receiving approaches from Tenants regarding rental waivers or assistance packages. Given that we cannot be fully aware if any assistance is going to be provided to Commercial Landlords, we see the following as the 3 main options available to our Landlords at this time:

  1. Provide a “Rental Waiver” – this is a fairly simple process of waiving rental for a specific period of the lease. We would need to be specific as to whether this includes or excludes outgoings;
  2. Provide a “Rental Reduction” – this is a process where the rental may be reduced depending on the reduced capacity of the Tenant and again should be specific as to whether it includes or excludes outgoings;
  3. Provide a “Provision of a Rent Moratorium” – this would relate to a specific period where rent is frozen. This means that the rent is not payable under the lease however it is not forgiven or waived by the Landlord. The Landlord could advise that after the Rent Moratorium period the Landlord will reassess the rental during the moratorium period which should allow a Landlord to either require repayment of that rental (say over the period of the remainder of the lease or some other period determined by the Landlord) or alternatively, the Landlord could agree to forgive or reduce that rental at that time;

This last alternative allows the Landlord to defer making a final decision in the reduction or waiver of rental until further information is to hand, including the length of this current crisis and the basis on which each individual is able to recover from the downturn.

We believe the most important element of any of these solutions is that the Landlord properly document any agreement which is reached. No agreement should be reached without proper review and documentation. The reason this remains so vital is that the greatest asset that the Landlord will have is the value of their premises and potentially the ongoing tenancies. If there is dispute at a later point regarding what agreement was reached or the specific terms of that agreement or the ability of the Landlord to later make a determination, each of these may result in substantial dispute and/or

litigation at a future point in time. This has the potential to cause more damage than the current situation if in the instance the Landlord is in a dispute with a large number of its Tenants.

We would recommend that each Tenant is dealt with on a case by case basis and bound to strict confidentiality failing which any agreement may be forfeited.

It may further be prudent that:

  1. the Landlord negotiate the terms subject to final agreement and documentation to save incurring any unnecessary costs; and
  2. the costs of documenting by the agreement are either born by the Tenant or potentially on a shared basis between the parties OMB Solicitors will assist with this documentation.

We believe this is an essential time for our Landlords and we look forward to providing you whatever assistance you need during this period.

Levies COVID-19

News for Owners Corporations (NSW) Regarding COVID-19 and Levy Recovery.

By | Articles, Body Corporate

Frequently Asked Questions About Levies & the Impact of COVID-19

Owners Corporations are challenged with balancing its statutory obligations with the rights of owners and occupiers (and the broader community) during this unfortunate pandemic. As the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19’s impact on the nation, and the world, continues OMB Solicitors address three frequently asked questions about current levy recovery procedures.

Whilst Owners Corporations and residents must consider the impact of COVID-19 on their buildings, including implementing appropriate steps to limit transmission of the virus, Strata Committee’s need to continue making decisions to ensure the obligations of the Owners Corporation are met.

  1. How might a Strata Committee deal with a failure of a lot owner to pay levies considering the impact of COVID-19?

Given the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, Strata Committees need to draw an appropriate balance between compassion for individual circumstances and maintaining a scheme’s healthy financial status. In this regard, it is likely that Strata Committees may be faced with increased hardship and payment plan requests from lot owners. It is important, during these times, for Strata Committees to consider each matter on a case by case basis and (if necessary) ask lot owners to provide evidence of financial hardship (i.e. redundancy letters or a Statement of Financial position) prior to making a decision.

Whilst there is no obligation on a Strata Committee to waive any portion of the debt, circumstances may arise which warrant a waiver of interest or a payment plan that would see the debt satisfied within a reasonable period of time.

In this regard, any payment plan requests need to be considered having regard to the lot owner’s payment history, the future needs of the scheme, how many lots are in the scheme and how the payment plan request may impact upon the day to day running of the scheme i.e. paying for insurance, caretakers or other essential expenses.

If an owner has been in arrears for a significant period of time and prior to March 2020, then the Strata Committee ought to consider a separate strategy of the management of that debt (in consultation with its legal advisors).

  1. How is OMB Solicitors dealing with levy recovery processes during the COVID-19 Pandemic

OMB Solicitors have implemented several strategies in dealing with levies moving forward. These strategies include:

  1. a compulsory telephone call from our experienced staff to all owners referred to levy recovery to ensure a specific examination of the individual circumstances, which will result in an appropriate management of the debt; NEWS FOR OWNERS CORPORATIONS LEVIES & THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 As at 27 March 2020
  2. providing additional advice to the Strata Committee prior to the institution of legal proceedings (if such proceedings are necessary), including advice on hardship and payment plan requests;
  3. increasing the timeframes for debt management and exploring the financial options with each individual lot owner; and
  4. discussing with the Strata Committee how to manage and meet its financial obligations during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  1. Should the Strata Committee refer a lot owner to levy recovery given the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The short answer is yes.

An Owners Corporation is responsible for looking after common property and attending to all repairs. Accordingly, to ensure the Owners Corporation can meet its financial obligation of insurance, repair, maintenance and cleanliness – contributions must continue to be paid by owners.

Whilst there are legislative change with respect to enforcement of Judgments (i.e. bankruptcy and Statutory Demands), unfortunately there are no amendments to the regulations governing how an Owners Corporation recovers a levy from a lot owner (at this stage). Accordingly, Strata Committees are doing their best to manage the impact upon the financial circumstances of their scheme by operating “business as usual” with the overriding considering of addressing the effect of the virus on lot owner’s individual circumstances.

A message from OMB Solicitors

During these times of uncertainty, OMB Solicitors have implemented an action plan to ensure all levy recovery matters are actioned in a timely and appropriate fashion. We confirm that we are currently running business as usual and are taking steps to continue to minimise any disruption.

Over the last 2 years, OMB has invested heavily in technology which allows us to seamlessly work remotely if required and have been operating electronic Body Corporate files for approximately 12 months.

As this pandemic is ever evolving, our action plan and our levy recovery processes are fluid and will continue to adjust as we monitor the situation via the Australian Government Department of Health and World Health Organisation.

At OMB Solicitors we are all doing our part to minimise the risk of infection including practicing social distancing. In conjunction with this, we ask that all meetings are conducted via phone call or video conferencing. Should an onsite meeting be required, we further request that you advise if you have previously been in contact with the Coronavirus or have travelled within the last 14 days prior to the meeting.

If you have any questions regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact our Gold Coast lawyers.

COVID-19 Rent Relief

COVID-19 Rent Relief

By | Articles, Property Law

As you are all aware, we are all anxiously awaiting the announcement of the Government’s rent relief package which is expected as part of the third stimulus package, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

We understand that tenants are now coming forward requesting rental relief in the form of reduced rental and/or no rental for a certain period of time due to the economic crises we are currently facing. At present it is too early to know how best to fix the situation until we have a better idea of how long this crisis will last and what other relief will be forthcoming. We do suggest that where assistance is given, it is given on a case by case basis for now.

It is imperative for all Landlords and Tenants to support each other as best they can in this crisis. However, any discussions on rent abatement, short-term agreements to defer some rental and any negotiations be put on hold until we know the full extent of the Government and financial institution relief package which should roll out in the next few days and weeks. Landlords and Tenants will then be able to make an informed decision and enter into negotiations which will benefit both the Landlord and the Tenant for the foreseeable future.

It is important to remember that where the tenants have been in substantial arrears prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, those rental arrears would not form part of any relief provided but would remain in place.

Further, it is important to note that where an agreement for rental reduction or rental abatement is being offered, you might also consider reaching an agreement with your current tenants to extend the lease term and exercise options early. Any variations to Leases or agreements reached should be documented by way of the appropriate Deeds to safeguard both Landlords and Tenants.

Both Simon and his Commercial/Property Team are here to help guide you step by step through this trying time and we will be sending  further emails to you explaining the options and obligations for both Landlords and Tenants once we are in receipt of the full information from the Government in the coming days/weeks.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to email or phone either Simon or Lisa with any queries or concerns you may have.

Stay safe!!

Body Corporate Levies

News for Bodies Corporate (QLD) Regarding COVID-19 and Levy Recovery

By | Articles, Body Corporate

Frequently Asked Questions About Levies & the Impact of COVID-19

The Queensland Government recently reported that “Bodies Corporate and their committees have a statutory obligation to act reasonably”, which includes balancing the statutory obligations of a Body Corporate with the rights of owners and occupiers (and the broader community). As the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19’s impact on the nation, and the world, continues OMB Solicitors address three frequently asked questions about current levy recovery procedures.

Whilst Bodies Corporate and residents must consider the impact of COVID-19 on their buildings, including implementing appropriate steps to limit transmission of the virus, Committee’s need to continue making decisions (i.e. by way of VOCM) to ensure the obligations of the Body Corporate are met.

  1. How might a Committee deal with a failure of a lot owner to pay levies considering the impact of COVID-19?

Given the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, Committees need to draw an appropriate balance between compassion for individual circumstances and maintaining a scheme’s healthy financial status. In this regard, it is likely that Committees may be faced with increased hardship and payment plan requests from lot owners. It is important, during these times, for Committees to consider each matter on a case by case basis and (if necessary) ask lot owners to provide evidence of financial hardship (i.e. redundancy letters or a Statement of Financial position) prior to making a decision.

Whilst there is no obligation on a Committee to waive any portion of the debt, circumstances may arise which warrant a waiver of interest or a payment plan that would see the debt satisfied within a reasonable period of time.

In this regard, any payment plan requests need to be considered having regard to the lot owner’s payment history, the future needs of the scheme, how many lots are in the scheme and how the payment plan request may impact upon the day to day running of the scheme i.e. paying for insurance, caretakers or other essential expenses.

If an owner has been in arrears for a significant period of time and prior to March 2020, then the Committee ought to consider a separate strategy of the management of that debt (in consultation with its legal advisors).

  1. How is OMB Solicitors dealing with levy recovery processes during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

OMB Solicitors have implemented several strategies in dealing with levies moving forward. These strategies include:

a compulsory telephone call from our experienced staff to all owners referred to levy recovery to ensure a specific examination of the individual circumstances, which will result in an appropriate management of the debt;

providing additional advice to the Committee prior to the institution of legal proceedings (if such proceedings are necessary), including advice on hardship and payment plan requests;

increasing the timeframes for debt management and exploring the financial options with each individual lot owner; and

discussing with the Committee how to manage and meet its financial obligations during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

  1. Should the Committee refer a lot owner to levy recovery given the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The short answer is yes.

As advised by the Queensland Government, it was confirmed that a Body Corporate must maintain common property in good condition (including the cleanliness of such common property). Accordingly, to ensure the Body Corporate can meet its financial obligation of insurance, repair, maintenance and cleanliness – contributions must continue to be paid by owners.

Whilst there is legislative change with respect to enforcement of Judgments (i.e. bankruptcy and Statutory Demands), unfortunately there are no amendments to the regulations governing how a Body Corporate recovers a levy from a lot owner (at this stage). Accordingly, Committees are doing their best to manage the impact upon the financial circumstances of their scheme by operating “business as usual” with the overriding considering of addressing the effect of the virus on lot owner’s individual circumstances.

A message from OMB Solicitors

During these times of uncertainty, OMB Solicitors have implemented an action plan to ensure all levy recovery matters are actioned in a timely and appropriate fashion. We confirm that we are currently running business as usual and are taking steps to continue to minimise any disruption.

Over the last 2 years, OMB Solicitors has invested heavily in technology which allows us to seamlessly work remotely if required and have been operating electronic Body Corporate files for approximately 12 months.

As this pandemic is ever evolving, our action plan and our levy recovery processes are fluid and will continue to adjust as we monitor the situation via the Australian Government Department of Health and World Health Organisation.

Gold Coast lawyers at OMB Solicitors we are all doing our part to minimise the risk of infection including practicing social distancing. In conjunction with this, we ask that all meetings are conducted via phone call or video conferencing. Should an onsite meeting be required, we further request that you advise if you have previously been in contact with the Coronavirus or have travelled within the last 14 days prior to the meeting.

 

Force Majeure

Force Majeure: How does an ‘Act of God’ Clause Affect Your Contract

By | Articles, Property Law

On 30 January 2020, the Director General of the World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) outbreak around the world a “public health emergency of international concern”.

We recognise in this difficult time, many of us may be also concerned with our ongoing contractual obligations and how the unforeseeable event of Coronavirus may affect the contracts that we are parties to. In this article, we shall provide insights on what is a force majeure clause and how the Coronavirus may affect contractual obligations.

What is Force Majeure?

Force majeure is a legal concept designed to provide remedies for parties affected by an unavoidable or unforeseeable event. Common examples of force majeure events include earthquake, explosion, natural disaster, terrorism and war.

Eventhough force majeure is a civil law concept, force majeure clauses are used in Australian contracts because of its similarity to the doctrine of frustration in common law. The doctrine of frustration applies when the performance of a contract must be radically different from what was intended by the parties.

Does Force Majeure apply to the Coronavirus outbreak?

The Coronavirus is a recent new global crisis, therefore it is not likely that contracts will include express clauses referring to the event of a Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst in China, the government has issued thousands of Force Majeure Certificates for businesses relying on force majeure clauses in contracts, it is still uncertain whether the Australian government will provide similar provisions. The questions that should be addressed are:

  1. Is Coronavirus considered a force majeure? This will largely be determined by a particular clause and that specific drafting of the clause.
  2. What notice is required to be given to enact the force majeure? It is often essential that correct notice be given pursuant to the specific clause.
  3. What relief can be obtained? Often if the appropriate clause applies, the relief may be temporary for the period of time that the event occurs.
  4. Is there an obligation on either or both parties to mitigate their loss?

If there is no force majeure can the common law help?

Without new government provisions, the test required in common law is to analyse the risks the parties agreed to take and the precise wording in the contract. In addition, the party relying on the clause will need to prove to the court that the event is beyond the reasonable control of the party seeking relief.

In Australia, frustration may be applicable in the following circumstances:

  1. A change in law rendering performance illegal. In the current situation, if the law requires the quarantine of a personal service provider, the service provider will be frustrated by such unexpected event as not quarantining and performing personal services to other individuals will be considered illegal.
  2. Physical destruction of the subject matter of the contract. In the situation of Coronavirus, an example would be if goods are contaminated and required to be destroyed. In such event, if the goods are being traded, the destruction of the goods may render the contract frustrated due to unexpected events.
  3. Restraint by injunction. In the landmark case of Codelfa Construction Pty Ltd v State Rail Authority of NSW, construction work noise affected the local residents and work shifts needed to be reduced as a result of injunctions. The majority of the court considered that the contract had been frustrated. In the current situation, if the government restrains trade by injunction due to infected personnels, this may give cause to frustration in contract.

It is important to note that irrespective of the magnitude of the Coronavirus outbreak, parties to a contract are still under an obligation to provide notice if the party seeks to rely on a force majeure clause or the doctrine of frustration under common law.

Force Majeure in Property Contracts

In Queensland, there is no automatic right to pull out of a contract even in the event that a property is damaged. In addition, most Queensland property contracts indicate that “time is of the essence”, this means time limits must be strictly observed in all circumstances and there is no automatic right for a party to extend dates because of delays.

Property Purchase and Sale Contracts

In the standard Real Estate Institute of Queensland Contract for Houses and Residential Land (“the Contract”), clause 6.2 provides a Suspension of Time clause for events when a party is unable to perform a Settlement Obligation solely as a consequence of a Delay Event. Such Event is defined in clause 6.2(8)(b) to include:

  1.  A tsunami, flood, cyclone, earthquake, bushfire or other act of nature;
  2. Riot, civil commotion, war, invasion or a terrorist act;
  3. An imminent threat of an event in paragraphs (i) or (ii); or
  4. Compliance with any lawful direction or order by a Government Agency.

If you are currently negotiating a real estate contract, it is important for a special clause to be inserted in regards to Coronavirus/a pandemic.

If the contract has already been signed, it is important to note that you are only entitled to an extension if the other party agrees to an extension. In the current circumstance, if you become aware that there may be a potential delay due to the outbreak, it is important to communicate with the other party as soon as possible and negotiate a new settlement date.

Conclusion

Given that there is no clarity yet as to when the Coronavirus outbreak will be contained, it is important for parties under contractual obligations to prepare for circumstances where the relevant contractual obligations may be affected. Consult our Gold Coast lawyers for advice appropriate to your situation.

If you are in current contract negotiations, you should certainly consider including a force majeure clause that will protect you from the consequences of being unable to perform contractual obligations due to Coronavirus and other similar biological disasters.

Short Term Letting

Short Term Letting – Body Corporate

By | Articles, Body Corporate

The advent of short-term stay platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz have been a boon both for those looking for extra accommodation options in popular locations and those looking to make some extra income from letting out a spare room or granny flat in their residence, or their entire property.

But this evolution of the internet’s ‘gig’ economy has also brought with it some pertinent legal challenges. For example, what are the implications of short-term letting when you own a property within a body corporate?

Bodies corporate are perhaps naturally predisposed to resisting the trend to short-term letting, worried about the overall effect of itinerant people passing through the property, a concern perhaps enhanced by some media horror stories of properties short-term let by people who use them for raucous, all-night parties.

A couple of court decisions in recent years have helped clarify the issue of whether a body corporate can, through its by-laws, ban owners from letting part of their property through a platform such as Airbnb, which we’ll look briefly at in this article.

The case of Hilton Park CTS 27490 v Robertson

In this 2017 Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) case, the position of owners within bodies corporate was clarified when the Tribunal ruled that unit owners were legally entitled to offer their units for short-term rentals. QCAT stated that any attempt made by the body corporate to restrict owners from using their property in this way through a by-law or by other means was invalid and was not enforceable.

The decision relied on s 180(3) of Queensland’s Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (“BCCMA Act”), which essentially states that by-laws cannot restrict the type of residential use of the lot if the lot may lawfully be used for residential purposes. In addition to the above, as the term ‘residential’ has not been clarified or defined, it is to be broadly interpreted and so permits any residential use of the lot.

The decision in this case remains the law for properties which fall under the BCCMA Act.

More recently in 2019, the general view of banning short term letting was challenged by the Fairway Island GTP v Redman and Murray decision, where the body corporate successfully banned short-term letting through the use of a by-law.

The case of Fairway Island GTP v Redman and Murray

In this decision handed down in the Queensland Magistrates Court, a Hope Island resort on the Gold Coast successfully relied on one of its by-laws to ban short-term letting through platforms such as Airbnb by its lot owners.

The key difference with the decision in the Hilton Park case of 2017 is that the resort in question in this case remained governed by earlier legislation, the Building Units and Group Titles Act 1980 (Qld) (“BUGTA”), rather than the BCCMA.

Significantly, BUGTA does not place the same statutory restrictions on by-laws as the BCCMA, the latter ensuring that a by-law cannot be oppressive or unreasonable having regard to the interests of all owners or occupiers of lots and the use of the common property.

The implications

The vast majority of Queensland’s 50,000-plus strata schemes are governed by the BCCMA and so the decision in Hilton Park remains the more applicable law. But the decision in Fairway Park has emboldened managers of strata schemes to urge the state government to reconsider the ability of bodies corporate to restrict short-term letting by unit owners.

The Strata Community Association (Qld), for example, which represents more than 1.2 million Queenslanders who live in apartments, units, townhouses and other strata title property, welcomed the Fairway Park decision for restoring the power of the body corporate to make a by-law that “protects community interests”.

Additionally, some legal commentary has suggested that future applications by bodies corporate regarding short-term letting under the BCCMA may rely on the Magistrate’s interpretation of the term ‘residential’ under BUGTA in the Fairway Park decision.

For the majority of owners in Queensland, though, bodies corporate cannot prohibit the letting of your property through platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz through by-laws.

If you are unsure of the status of your property under the current law, and are interested in either undertaking, or preventing, short-term letting within the property, contact our Gold Coast lawyers today. We are experienced, expert legal professionals on all matters relating to body corporate and strata management. Call our body corporate team today on (07) 5555 0000.

Book now