Property Conciliation Conference
In property settlement matters, the court expects separating couples to take every opportunity to attempt to resolve their matter by negotiating and reaching their own agreement. Even if a person has applied to the court for a decision, the court will usually ask the parties to try at least once more to resolve their dispute themselves.
When the total property pool is less than $500,000, the court can order that the parties attend a conciliation conference. A conciliation conference is similar to a mediation, but the mediator is a registrar of the court, and the fee that is charged is a fixed-fee payment to the court, rather than a larger fixed fee, or hourly rate, which is common in private mediations.
If either party has a lawyer, then the lawyer also attends the conference, and is present throughout to provide advice and help about making, considering, accepting or rejecting offers of settlement.
It is usually the next step after a case assessment conference or procedural hearing and occurs where there are financial issues in dispute. Sometimes parenting issues can be considered as well.
What Must I Do Before The Conciliation Conference?
To make the best possible use of the conference both parties must exchange information with each other and provide information to the court before the conference. There needs to be an agreement about what the assets, liabilities and superannuation balances of the parties are, and what their value is. If there is disagreement about the value of any asset or superannuation interest, then a valuation must be obtained. Lawyers help with this. Usually, the parties will instruct a single expert to value the disputed item. This means that both parties are involved in engaging the valuer, and both parties must accept the valuation given.
- Documents that must be exchanged include:
- three most recent taxation returns and assessments;
- any superannuation documents;
- for a corporation, trust or partnership, financial statements for each corporation, trust or partnership (including balance sheets, profit and loss accounts, depreciation schedules and taxation returns) for each of the last three financial years;
- for the party or a corporation, trust or partnership, any business activity statements for the past 12 months;
- for any corporation, its most recent annual return listing directors and shareholders, and the corporation’s constitution;
- for any trust, the trust deed;
- for any partnership, the partnership agreement;
- a market appraisal of any item of property in which a party has an interest.
- The documents required may include documents which should have been exchanged prior to the case assessment conference but have not yet been exchanged and any other documents required containing evidence about:
- financial matters outlined in your and the other party’s financial statements;
- financial contributions made when the parties began living together;
- any inheritances, gifts or compensation payments received after the parties began living together;
- any purchase or disposal of property in the 12 months prior to and since the separation and any increase or reduction of liabilities since separation.
It is important that you disclose all facts and documents relevant to your application. Failure to do so can delay a settlement, result in increased costs or an order for you to pay the other party’s costs. It may also lead to the Court making a greater order for a property settlement in favour of the other party.
What Can I Expect At The Conciliation Conference?
Generally, a couple of hours are allocated for the conciliation conference to allow negotiations to be pursued fully.
Different registrars have different ways of conducting their conferences, but usually he/she speaks first with the legal representatives to get a brief outline of what the case is about, or more precisely, what is in dispute. Both parties are required to file documents setting out their respective offers to settle the dispute and the grounds on which their offer is made. The registrar has the benefit of reading the court documents filed by each party before the conference begins. The registrar then conducts discussions in an attempt to get the parties reach a settlement on all issues. Often, the registrar will meet with the parties directly, without the legal representatives present.
If either party has any concerns about being in the same room as the other party, they should advise their solicitor to ensure that the registrar is aware of those concerns. Discussions in conciliation conferences are generally referred to as being confidential – they cannot be referred to in any later court hearings if a settlement is not reached.
At the end of the discussions, the registrar will sum up what has happened, highlighting the agreements reached. If you have reached agreement on all issues, your solicitor will prepare terms of settlement for you to sign so that the court can make consent orders.
If you have not reached final agreement, the registrar will conduct a procedural hearing and make procedural orders about what will happen next.
The procedural hearing will take place immediately after the conciliation conference. The registrar might order:
- disclosure of documents;
- listing the case for hearing including:
- payment of the hearing fee
- filing of undertakings as to disclosure
- allocating a date for a compliance check about 21 days before the first day before the judge
- allocating the first day of hearing before the judge;
- clarification of disputed items in the balance sheet;
- clarification of any issue arising out of a statement made by a party in a financial questionnaire;
- if the case also involves parenting issues:
- referring parties to family counselling, family dispute resolution and other family services
- appointment of an independent children’s lawyer
- completion and filing by each party of a parenting questionnaire.
Please contact Armstrong Legal to talk to one of our specialist family law solicitors.