Legal Aid WA trial for separating couples reaches cap early

Stock image.
Stock image.

A PROGRAM to help separating couples resolve property disputes has almost reached capacity two months into its two-year trial.

Legal Aid WA (LAWA) says there has been an overwhelming response to its property mediation pilot, which aims to help couples resolve property disputes outside court.

The Commonwealth Government funded the two-year pilot as part of the Women’s Economic Security Statement, with funding in WA capped at 100 applications.

The pilot offers couples with assets less than $500,000 excluding superannuation, access to property mediation during a separation if one person is eligible for legal aid.

Since January LAWA has received 90 successful applications, with 67 per cent initiated by women.

Solicitor in charge of dispute resolution Lynette Hill said the high demand was proof of a gap in the services that helped couples who fell into this bracket.

“These couples tend to give up because they don’t have money to pay for lawyers and they aren’t resourced sufficiently to go to the court themselves to file an application, so there was a real need to create a properly funded service,” she said.

“Divorce, in some circumstances, leads to court proceedings, adding a heavy burden on people who are already emotionally and financially stressed.

“Many people, especially women, walk away from their rights to property because of the stress and expense of legal action.

“After separation or divorce, women experience far more significant drops in household disposable income than men.

“It is a time-consuming process and for many it is too costly and is resolved too late to support them when they need it most.”

Ms Hill said the first mediation was finalised in February, which was a good outcome for that family and avoided a potentially lengthy process that could take months or years through the Family Court.

“If they apply to us in January and we can do the whole thing by March, that’s a really speedy solution for them,” she said.

About 30 applications received were from northern suburbs residents, with another 24 from the southern suburbs and 19 from the eastern suburbs.

LAWA has also received applications from the South West, Peel Great Southern, Gascoyne, Goldfields and Kimberley regions.

Similar pilots are being run in other states, with some capped at 50 rather than 100 cases.

Ms Hill said people could still access the main legal aid services, or go through the Citizens Advice Bureau, Relationships Australia or Centrecare for advice.

“It’s just a shame we can’t help more people,” she said.

“We are hoping this is the beginning – we could like to help as many people as we possibly can.”

Visit www.legalaid.wa.gov.au.