s

Jacky Campbell, December 2015

Which country? Child abduction proceedings, undertakings and maintenance orders

International mobility continues to increase through greater travel and work opportunities, and the number of cases dealt with by the Family Law Courts continues to increase exponentially. The difficulties involved with resolving financial disputes at the end of a relationship are often more complicated if there are children. Parties often want to return to their “home” country and take any children with them.

If a child is removed from a Hague Convention country to a country which has acceded to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of Child Abduction (“the Hague Convention”) or retained in another Convention country, the Hague Convention aims to have the child returned to the forum from which the child was removed and parenting proceedings determined in that forum.

The Hague Convention sets out the prerequisites to the Hague Convention being invoked and the defences upon which the removing parent can seek to rely. It does not set out the relationship between child and spousal maintenance orders or the undertakings which the left behind parent may be required to make, by the court making the return order, to ensure the “soft landing” of the child and the removing parent.

In Sibly & Cassidy [2015] FamCA 912, the Family Court of Australia determined the parties’ competing applications for a property settlement and in doing so considered whether Canadian maintenance and cost orders should be enforced or discharged. It was also an interesting example of how the Convention is applied. Sometimes the brevity of a judgment can make it difficult to understand the full reasons why orders were made. Reading the numerous Canadian judgments about this family helps to better understand the ultimate outcome in Australia. This article draws on both the Australian and the Canadian judgments.

Sibly & Cassidy – the Australian proceedings

In Sibly & Cassidy the Family Court of Australia discharged the maintenance and child support orders made in Canada and discharged the arrears. The Canadian Courts accepted undertakings by the husband in the Hague Convention proceedings, and later made orders with respect to ongoing child support and spousal maintenance in favour of the wife. In between the Canadian proceedings and the 2015 Australian proceedings, the wife had unsuccessfully sought orders that the child R be able to live with her and the child K for 6 months in Canada (Cassidy & Sibly [2011] FamCA 933) and that the child R live permanently in Canada (Cassidy & Sibly [2012] FamCA 245).

The country in which the parties were principally resident during the course of their relationship was not clear from the judgment. The parties met in Australia in 2002, started cohabitating in 2004 and married in Australia in 2005, but the two children were born in Canada (one born after separation). The husband visited Canada at various times and the wife resided in Australia from time to time. A significant proportion of their assets were in Australia. The husband was an Australian citizen, ordinarily resident in Australia and present in Australia.

The wife was expecting the parties’ second child, K, when she travelled to Canada in September 2009. K was born in Canada, lived with the wife in Canada and had spent limited time with his father since his birth. The child R returned to Darwin, Australia to live with the husband, following orders made by the Supreme Court of Canada under the Hague Convention. The wife did not return to reside in Darwin and K lived with her in Canada.

The wife commenced proceedings for an alteration of property interests in the Family Court of Australia in September 2013.

In Sibly & Cassidy, the wife was not working and had the sole care of one of the children of the marriage. The husband was working and had the care of the other child. The Family Court of Australia, exercising its powers under the Family Law Act 1975 (“the Act”), discharged the Canadian spousal maintenance order in favour of the wife and her entitlement to child support under Canadian law was offset against her child support liability under Australian law with respect to R. She received only a very modest property settlement: a few chattels and $10,000 of the husband’s superannuation. The husband retained the bulk of his superannuation and his half interest in a house. His superannuation had increased in the period after separation in late 2009/early 2010 from approximately $49,000 to approximately $75,000. The wife retained substantial funds at separation, but had spent them on legal fees. It was a 5 year marriage with 2 children, but the court referred to it as a “short relationship”, although a marriage of that length with children is not generally considered to be “short”.

It seemed as if there may have been a punitive aspect to the outcome for the wife in that she had been found by the Canadian courts to have abducted the child R. The wife’s skills and work history were not recorded in the Australian judgment, which makes it difficult to understand the justification for the Australian property orders and the discharge of the Canadian maintenance and child support orders in her favour. The wife did not seek a significant property settlement in her favour. She sought the superannuation split that she ultimately received and a cash payment of about $10,000. She sought to maintain the Canadian child support and spousal support orders in her favour and had opposed the husband’s stay application, which was successful, in Cassidy & Sibly [2015] FamCA 335. The Australian Child Support Agency had been garnishing the husband’s wages for about 2 years.

Sibly & Cassidy – the Canadian Hague Convention proceedings

The litigation in Canada covered such matters as:

  • whether the husband should be required to give undertakings, and what undertakings, if R was returned to Australia;
  • whether R should be returned to Australia, as the wife raised various defences to the Hague Convention;
  • the wife’s maintenance application with respect to herself and the children;
  • a costs application by the husband;
  • an unsuccessful appeal by the wife;
  • a successful application by the husband to vary the return orders to enable him to collect the child R rather than for the wife to travel back to Australia with the child;
  • interim orders for K to remain in the custody of the wife, for the husband to pay child support for K, that he pay spousal maintenance and a costs order in the wife’s favour which was credited towards the costs she was required to pay the husband in connection with the Hague Convention application.

In the undertaking proceedings the wife unsuccessfully sought that the husband give up his residence in favour of herself and the children. This application was refused, primarily because the husband owned the residence with his brother. She also sought, based on the husband’s income of $42,000 per year, that the husband pay the wife $2,000 per month and that the husband pay the airfares and other reasonable travel expenses for the wife and the 2 children from Canada to Darwin. The husband proposed that he accompany R back to Darwin and he was prepared to pay those travel costs. The Court found that the wife’s proposal to travel to Darwin with the 2 children would cost less than the husband’s proposal. Although the evidence showed that the husband had a very good relationship with R, the Court found that it was better for R to travel to Australia with his mother and brother as he had been in the sole care of the wife for 2 years. The Court realised that there was an element of unfairness in requiring the husband to bear the costs of returning R to Darwin, but believed it was the only practical order. The Judge was not prepared to make an ongoing support order for the wife and the children but ordered that the husband pay $4,000 to the wife before the wife’s departure to Australia.

The Hague Convention proceedings – Defences by the wife

The defences which the wife raised under the Hague Convention were:

  1. The wife was not habitually resident in Australia before she flew to Canada with the child R in 2009 and that her habitual residence is, and always was, Canada. She said that the husband’s habitual residence is, and always was, Australia. There was evidence that she had connections with Canada. For example, she maintained her fully furnished residence, filed income tax returns in Canada, received Canadian child tax benefits and GST credits, held an Ontario drivers licence and health care card and declared her Australian income on her Australian tax return.
  2. There was a grave risk that the child’s return would expose him to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place him in an intolerable situation.
  3. That the husband had acquiesced in the wife’s retention of the child when he lived with the wife and the children in Canada after he brought his application under the Hague Convention.

The Canadian Court found that there was significant evidence that the wife’s habitual residence was Australia. She had permanent residency in Australia, she had an Australian job, pension, bank account, drivers licence and medical coverage. She made plans for pregnancy care for the second child in Australia well after her departure date, she had friends in Australia, she had a gym membership and had booked a return flight to Australia for November 2009.

The judge agreed that R was probably too young for the court to meaningfully enquire into whether R had become acclimated to Australia but disagreed with the submission on behalf of the wife that the child’s activities in Australia were of no consequence. Those activities were of assistance in determining the parents’ intentions. Prior to R’s removal from Australia he had completed the third of the four terms of his school year, was involved in swimming lessons, was involved with his mother in a playgroup, had bonded with his paternal grandparents and his uncle and had a group of young friends. All these matters pointed to a finding that his parents had formed a settled intention to stay in Australia as a family, even if their stay was not necessarily permanent. The child had a strong and readily perceptible link to Australia.

The Canadian Court found that the wife had not abandoned her residence in Canada. Maintaining her connections with Canada was consistent with Australia being the wife’s habitual residence. Habitual residence did not equate to domicile. The test for habitual residence was not so high that the Court had to find that the wife had abandoned Canada and never intended to return to live there.

The Supreme Court also rejected the defences of acquiescence and intolerable situation.

Sibly & Cassidy – the later Canadian proceedings

The Canadian judgments reveal that the parties met in Australia whilst the wife was working as a geologist, which work she had also done in Canada. She had tertiary qualifications and relatively recent work experience as an information technology coordinator. At various times during their relationship there were issues for each of the parties as to their ability to work because of the expiration of the appropriate visas in whichever country they were living in at the time. Sometimes they were both working, at other times they were both unemployed and at other times one party was working while the other stayed home and cared for the child R. The wife was not permanently R’s sole caregiver.

The home in which the parties had lived whilst they lived in Australia was half-owned by the husband and half-owned by his brother which gives a better understanding about why the Canadian courts refused the wife’s request to live there pursuant to an undertaking by the husband related to the Hague Convention proceedings. The husband had made a substantial initial contribution to the purchase price. The parties and the child lived on the top floor whilst the husband’s brother lived on the main floor.

In January 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada made orders in relation to child support and spousal maintenance to be paid by the husband to the wife. The husband was also ordered to pay the wife’s costs. The wife had already been ordered to pay the husband’s costs of the Hague Convention proceedings.

There were further proceedings in Canada which resulted in orders being made in January 2014 that the wife have final sole custody of K and that the husband pay to the wife child support and spousal support at higher rates than previous, taking into account his income and the Child Support and Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. Orders were also made to ensure that the orders were enforceable in Australia.

Legislation relevant to the recognition of the Canadian orders

The Full Court of the Family Court of Australia recently approved the statement of the role of undertakings in Hague proceedings in Wolford & Attorney-General’s Department (Cth) [2014] FamCAFC 197. The Full Court in Wolford referred to McDonald and Director General, Department of Community Services NSW [2007] FamCA 1400; (2006) FLC 93-297 where the role and application of undertakings and conditions made pursuant to reg 15(1)(c) of the Family Law Regulations 1984 on an application for a return order was addressed. In McDonald the Full Court cited Re M (Abduction: Undertakings) [1995] 1 FLR 1021 at 1025 where Butler-Sloss LJ explained the role of undertakings. Butler-Sloss LJ said (at 27):

“It is perhaps helpful to remind those engaged in Hague Convention applications about the position of undertakings or conditions attached to an Art 12 order to return. Such requirements are to make the return of the children easier and to provide for their necessities, such as a roof over the head, adequate maintenance, etc, until, and only until, the court of habitual residence can become seized of the proceedings brought in that jurisdiction.”

The Act provides for the recognition of foreign orders. Pt XIIIAA of the Act is entitled International Conventions, International Agreements and International Enforcement. Sections 110, 110A and 111A deal with the overseas enforcement of maintenance orders.

In s 110(1), a “reciprocating jurisdiction” is defined as a country, or part of a country, outside Australia declared by the regulations to be a reciprocating jurisdiction for the purposes of this section. Countries or parts of countries can also be jurisdictions with restricted reciprocity.

Section 110(2) states that the Family Law Regulations may make provision for and in relation to:

“(a)    the registration in, and enforcement by, courts having jurisdiction under this Act of maintenance orders made by courts or authorities or reciprocating jurisdictions or of jurisdictions with restricted reciprocity;

(aa)  the institution and prosecution, by an officer of a court having jurisdiction under this Act, a prescribed authority of the Commonwealth, of a State or Territory, or of another country or a part of another country, or a person for the time being holding a prescribed office under a law of the Commonwealth, of a State or Territory, or of another country or a part of another country, in his, her or its discretion, of proceedings:

(i)  on behalf of the person entitled to moneys payable under a maintenance order made by a court or authority of a reciprocating jurisdiction or of a jurisdiction with restricted reciprocity, for the enforcement by a court having jurisdiction under this Act of that maintenance order; or

(ii) for the making of orders for the confirmation of provisional orders made by courts of reciprocating jurisdictions or of jurisdictions with restricted reciprocity, being provisional orders referred to in paragraph (d); …

(c)   the making of orders (including provisional orders) for the variations, discharge, suspension or revival of maintenance orders registered in accordance with regulations under this section or of maintenance orders or provisional maintenance orders transmitted to other jurisdictions in accordance with regulations under this section, and the effect in Australia of orders under this paragraph;

(d)   the making of orders for the confirmation of provisional orders made by courts in reciprocating jurisdictions or in jurisdictions with restricted reciprocity, being provisional maintenance orders or provisional orders varying, discharging, suspending or reviving maintenance orders, and the effect in Australia of orders under this paragraph; …”

Schedule 2 of the Regulations indicates that pursuant to Reg 25, Ontario is a reciprocating jurisdiction.

Section 110A provides that the Regulations may make provision for and in relation to the registration and enforcement in Australia of overseas maintenance agreements or overseas administrative assessments of maintenance liabilities.

Section 111A provides that the Regulations “may make such provision as is necessary or convenient to enable the performance of the obligations of Australia, or to obtain for Australia any advantage or benefit, under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Decisions Relating to Maintenance Obligations …”

Section 66E(1) of the Act restricts courts exercising jurisdiction under the Act from making a child maintenance order if application for an administrative assessment of child support can be made. Section 66E(3) provides that s 66E(1) does not apply to proceedings under regulations made for the purposes of sections 110 or 111A.

The Family Court also considered Chapter 13 of the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act 2002 of Ontario. The regulations pursuant to the Ontario Act indicated that the Commonwealth of Australia was a reciprocating jurisdiction under the provisions of the Ontario Act.

Consideration of s 79(4) matters

In determining the parties’ competing applications under s 79 of the Act for a property settlement, the court was required to consider the contributions of the parties (financial, parenting and homemaking) and the other matters listed in s 75(2). The wife conceded that for the period 2004 to 2009 the contributions of the parties were equal. She did not have any health issues which prevented her from seeking employment. She was studying, but said she might look for work once K started school.

In June 2007 the husband used $80,000 of his savings to purchase a one-half interest in a house for $200,000. The wife made no direct financial contribution towards the purchase. When the parties resided in Canada from time to time, they lived in properties owned by the wife’s family.

During the trial the parties agreed that the Court should consider the contributions of the parties, both financially and non-financially, during the relationship as equal. However, Dawe J found that the original contribution of the husband’s savings to the home was significant.

After the parties’ separation, considerable costs were incurred by the parties in legal fees and travel costs. Most of the legal costs were incurred due to the wife’s travel to Canada with R, her refusal to return to Australia and her appeal from the order that R be returned to Australia.

The parties had net assets, mainly in Australia, of $184,200 which primarily consisted of the husband’s equity in a home he owned with his brother. The parties’ debts to each other for child support, souse maintenance and legal costs and to other people for legal costs were not included in these calculations. In addition, the husband had superannuation of about $75,000.

Dawe J took into account the following matters:

  • There had been considerable money spent on legal fees and travel costs associated with the Hague Convention proceedings in which the husband was successful. The husband had spent over C$57,000 in Canada and had also had substantial legal fees in Australia. The wife had spent at least C$100,000 on legal fees. Both parties had borrowed money to fund the litigation. They has also depleted assets to pay their legal costs;
  • The debts due by both parties in relation to child support orders and spouse maintenance orders, together with the specific order of the Canadian Court requiring the wife to pay the husband’s legal costs;
  • The husband’s substantial initial contribution of approximately A$120,000;
  • The income earning capacity of both parties;
  • The ongoing responsibilities of each of the parties to care for a child of the marriage;
  • The short period of cohabitation;
  • The husband’s contribution to the increased value of the superannuation since the separation.

Was it just and equitable to alter the parties’ legal and equitable interests?

Before making a s 79 order, the Court had to be satisfied that it was just and equitable to alter the parties’ legal and equitable interests as required by the High Court in Stanford. Considering the length of the marriage and the contributions of the parties during the period they resided together, the steps taken since separation and the impact upon the financial circumstances of the parties, Dawe J considered (at para 120) that it was just and equitable for a s 79 order to be made (Stanford v Stanford [2012] HCA 52; (2012) FLC 93-518).

It was also just and equitable for the Court to take into account when considering whether s 79 orders should be made:

  1. The Canadian orders for child support, spousal support and costs,
  2. The Australian child support assessment, and
  3. The Court should deal with these outstanding debts and finalise the financial arrangements between the parties where possible.

Dawe J discharged the unpaid child and spousal support orders made in Canada and reduced the liabilities owing to nil, including any penalties and interest. The costs payable by the wife to the husband under the Canadian Hague proceedings were also discharged. An order splitting the husband’s superannuation so that there could be a payment to the wife’s fund of $10,000 was made. Certain personal items of the wife were to be delivered by the husband to the wife when she next visited Darwin. Orders were made that the parties have no child support liability to each other.

The husband retained the equity in the real estate, which was an asset that he had acquired using funds which he owned prior to the relationship with the wife. He retained the bulk of his superannuation, which had increased substantially since the parties’ separation.

Conclusion

Sibly & Cassidy is a property settlement case, but it illustrates the ability of Australian courts to discharge child support and spousal maintenance orders made by overseas courts which are enforceable in Australia. The Hague Convention proceedings and the costs incurred in those proceedings, and the Canadian proceedings more generally, were significant in the context of a relatively modest asset pool.

Dawe J took a practical approach with the objective of finalising the financial relationship between the parties. This involved giving significant weight to the husband’s initial contributions, which were largely to a home in which he and one of the children of the marriage lived and #.

The writer thanks Louise Fairbairn of Forte Family Lawyers for her helpful comments in an earlier draft of this article.

Jacky Campbell

Partner

University qualifications

Master of Laws, Monash University

Bachelor of Laws, Monash University

Bachelor of Arts, Monash University

Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing, Deakin University

Other qualifications
Accredited Family Law Specialist,
Law Institute of Victoria

Email Jacky Campbell
jcampbell@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Connect on LinkedIn

Publications
To read Jacky Campbell’s articles and papers click here.

In 2020, Jacky was recognised as a leading family lawyer in Melbourne by Doyle’s Guide to the Australian Legal Market as well as one of Melbourne’s leading family lawyers in High-value and Complex Property matters, and a recommended lawyer in parenting matters. Jacky was also a recommended lawyer in the Doyle’s leading family and divorce lawyers in Australia. Jacky writes extensively on complex aspects of family law and her up-to-date knowledge means that she is able to provide accurate information about the law. She combines this with offering strategic advice to clients and guidance as to the best approach to take in their particular circumstances.

Jacky wrote her Masters thesis on the relationship of bankruptcy and family law. She continues to have a special interest in matters involving bankruptcy, insolvency, liquidation and receivership.

Jacky received the Law Institute of Victoria Rogers Legal Writing Award 2004—for the article “Splitting the Super…and Selling the Home”. She is experienced with complex superannuation interests such as defined benefit funds and self managed superannuation funds.

Jacky is the consultant editor of Wolters Kluwer/CCH Australian Family Law and Practice and contributing author to Wolters Kluwer/CCH Australian Family Law and Practice to the Property, Spousal Maintenance, Financial Agreements, Maintenance Agreements, Procedure and Precedents tabs. She writes several chapters of the Wolters/Kluwer CCH Australian Master Family Law Guide, and is the author of the family law chapters in the Thomson-Reuters Australian Financial Planning Handbook and in the CCH Australian Master Superannuation Guide.

Jacky is a Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, a board member of the Asia Pacific Chapter of that Academy, and an Associate of the American Bar Association. She acts for many clients who are overseas or where there is an international element such as overseas assets and international child abduction under the Hague Convention. She is also experienced in Australian and overseas surrogacy arrangements and in disputes about the role of a sperm donor. She is a member of the Maintenance and Property Committee of the Family Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and Victorian Women Lawyers.

Jacky is keen to assist clients to resolve matters before trial through alternative dispute resolution processes including mediation. She is a trained arbitrator and is an arbitrator with The Alternative Courtroom.

Wendy Kayler-Thomson

PARTNER

University qualifications

Master of Laws, Monash University

Bachelor of Laws, University of Melbourne

Bachelor of Commerce, University of Melbourne

Other qualifications
Accredited Family Law Specialist, Law Institute of Victoria

Email Wendy Kayler-Thomson
wkaylerthomson@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Connect on LinkedIn

Wendy Kayler-Thomson is a partner of Forte Family Lawyers and has practised as a lawyer specialising in family law for more than 25 years. Wendy is recognised as one of Melbourne’s leading family lawyers in Doyle’s 2020 Guide to the Australian Legal Market.

Wendy is the Immediate Past Chair of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, the peak body for Australian family lawyers, and has been a member of the Executive of the Family Law Section for more than 10 years. The Family Law Section is regularly consulted by the Federal government and the Courts about changes to family law and court procedures. As a result, Wendy is able to offer her clients the most up to date advice on family law and strategies to take advantage of future changes.

Wendy’s time as Chair of the Family Law Section (from 2016 to 2018) coincided with a period of great controversy and unprecedented attention on the reform of family law and the family law system. This included the Victorian Royal Commission into family violence, the Federal Parliamentary enquiry into the family law system and family violence, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Family Law Review and the Federal Government’s proposal to restructure the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

Wendy was a member of the Advisory Committee to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Family Law Review, the most comprehensive review of family law and the family law sector in 40 years.

Wendy was also a member of the Advisory Committee to the Law Council of Australia’s 2018 Justice Project, chaired by former High Court of Australia Chief Justice, the Hon. Robert French. The Justice Project is one of the most comprehensive, national reviews into the state of access to justice in Australia in the past 40 years.

Wendy develops close and trusted relationships with her clients and the wide network of professionals that refer her work. Wendy’s approach is tailored to each individual client’s needs, recognising that for most people, the breakdown of a relationship is one of their most stressful and challenging experiences. Wendy brings a high attention to detail, strategic advice and a depth of expert knowledge about family law. Wendy has a commercial background and has acted for many clients with complex financial arrangements. She works closely with her clients’ accountants and other professional advisors to ensure that all the complexities of those arrangements, including tax impacts and restructuring, are dealt with as part of any settlement.

Wendy has undertaken extensive training in a wide range of social sciences that impact on families and their children, including family and domestic violence, parental alienation, personality disorders, drug and alcohol addiction and high conflict. Wendy’s clients benefit from her knowledge of the most up to date approaches by child psychologists and other experts to managing the post-separation care arrangements of children. Wendy has particular expertise in cases where one parent wants to relocate with the children interstate or overseas.

Wendy is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators and Victorian Women Lawyers.

Jemma Mackenzie

Senior Associate

University qualifications

Bachelor of Laws (Hons) Monash University
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Monash University

Email Jemma Mackenzie
jmackenzie@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Other qualifications
Accredited Family Law Specialist,
Law Institute of Victoria

Connect on LinkedIn

Jemma is a Senior Associate at Forte Family Lawyers. She has worked predominantly in family law since being admitted to legal practice in December 2009.

Jemma obtained Specialist Accreditation as a Family Lawyer from the Law Institute of Victoria in 2015. Accreditation recognises the high level of knowledge and practical skills Jemma brings to each family law matter.

Jemma is mindful that the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship can be a stressful and often overwhelming experience for clients. She works with her clients to identify appropriate pathways for resolving both parenting and property matters.

Jemma prides herself on her ability to effectively communicate what can be complex legal principles and to provide realistic, up to date and accurate legal advice at each stage of a matter.

Jemma has experience in a wide variety of family law matters including division of property, maintenance (including urgent applications), Financial Agreements (including Agreements made prior to marriage), care and living arrangements for children, child support and family violence – including Intervention Order proceedings.

Prior to joining Forte Family Lawyers, Jemma worked in a Bayside family law firm and a boutique firm in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. She has conducted litigation in both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne and interstate.

In addition to her daily work with clients, Jemma has made presentations to financial advisors and medico-legal professionals about the family law system in Australia and what clients should know about family law prior to separating.

Jemma is a member of Victorian Women Lawyers, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and the Family Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria.

Kristy Haranas

Senior Associate

University qualifications

Bachelor of Laws, James Cook University

Email Kristy Haranas
kharanas@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Other qualifications
Accredited Family Law Specialist,
Law Institute of Victoria

Connect on LinkedIn

Kristy is a Senior Associate at Forte Family Lawyers. Kristy is an Accredited Family Law Specialist as recognised by the Law Institute of Victoria. Accredited Specialists are required to maintain a high degree of continuing professional development to ensure their advice is based on the most current legal principles and to the highest possible standard. Kristy was recognised in the 2020 edition of Doyles Guide as a Family Law Rising Star.

Kristy has undertaken further tertiary study in the area of family law and has a Masters of Applied Law (Family Law) from the College of Law.

Prior to joining the firm, Kristy worked in a range of practice areas including several years in family law in Queensland. Kristy also worked a lawyer for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on large-scale financial investigations. During her time at AISC Kristy gained valuable commercial experience and developed a high level of attention to detail which she now applies to her work in family law financial cases.

Kristy has a wide range of experience in different areas of family law including parenting issues, property settlements (including complex matters with multifaceted trust/corporate structures), financial agreements, child support and family violence cases.

Kristy prides herself on building strong relationships with clients from the outset. Kristy recognises that for most people, the breakdown of a relationship can result in stress, conflict and confusion. As a result, Kristy ensures that clients receive not only strategic and commercially focused legal advice, but empathy and compassion. Kristy has strong communication skills which she uses to confidently guide clients through what can sometimes feel like a complicated legal system.

Kristy is a member of the Courts Practice Committee of the Family Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria which provides her with valuable insight into recent developments in the Family Law Courts. Kristy is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and Victorian Women Lawyers.

Matthew Beckmans

Senior Associate

University qualifications

Bachelor of Laws, University of Western Sydney

Email Matthew Beckmans
mbeckmans@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Connect on LinkedIn

Matthew commenced his legal career practising in a medium-sized rural law firm. Matthew is able to draw on his broad experiences over a number of practice areas, prior to practising exclusively in family law, to offer clients a well-rounded approach to tactically resolve complex legal issues.

Matthew has developed a special interest in complex disputes involving companies and trusts, insolvency and bankruptcy, taxation, and international/domestic relocation.  He also has a particular expertise in child support.

Matthew is aware and mindful of the financial challenges and restraints when attempting to resolve family law disputes, and sets out to achieve negotiated and cost effective outcomes which avoid court where possible. Matthew recognises the emotional issues attached to the breakdown of a relationship, and draws on his strong communication skills in demystifying the family law process, and to identify and explain possible options for resolution in a concise manner.

Matthew was a member of the steering committee of the Riverina Family Law Pathways Network, secretary of the South West Slopes Law Society, and a mock trial magistrate for the Law Society of New South Wales.

Prior to practising law, Matthew was rookie listed by the Sydney Swans, where he enjoyed a brief career.  He now plays for the Monash Blues in the VAFA.

Matthew is a member of the Family Law Sections of the Law Council of Australia and the Law Institute of Victoria.  He is on the Court Practice Committee of the Family Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria.

Vinh Nguyen

Associate

University qualifications

Bachelor of Laws, Deakin University

Bachelor of Commerce, Deakin University

Email Vinh Nguyen
vnguyen@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Connect on LinkedIn

Vinh first worked at Forte Family Lawyers as part of his Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the Leo Cussen Institute for Law in 2017. He joined Forte Family Lawyers as a lawyer after his admission into legal practice in October 2017 and has, since then, worked solely in family law.

Prior to his admission as a lawyer, Vinh worked as a paralegal in a community legal centre and in a property and commercial law firm, where he gained valuable experience in property transactions.

Vinh is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, the Law Institute of Victoria and the Asian Australian Lawyers’ Association. Vinh also volunteers at the Darebin Community Legal Centre.

Vinh is fluent in Vietnamese.

 

 

 

Natasha Mastroianni

Associate

University Qualifications

Bachelor of Laws (Hons), Latrobe University

Bachelor of Arts, Latrobe University

Masters of Applied Law (Family Law), College of Law

Email Natasha Mastroianni

nmastroianni@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

 

 

Connect on LinkedIn

Natasha Mastroianni has experience in a range of family law matters, including property settlements, financial agreements, parenting matters (including interstate and overseas relocation issues), child support and intervention order proceedings.

Natasha was admitted to practice in August 2014 and commenced her career in a generalist practice where she gained experience in family law, property law, wills and estates. Natasha worked in a boutique family law practice prior to commencing at Forte in February 2020.

Natasha has a Masters of Applied Law (Family Law) from the College of Law and speaks conversational Italian.

Having practical experience in other areas of law assists Natasha to understand the interrelated issues involved in her clients’ family law matters. She regularly appears on behalf of clients at Duty List Hearings and other Court events in the Federal Circuit Court, Family Court of Australia and the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria. Natasha also appears as a solicitor agent for interstate or rural practitioners when required.

Natasha prides herself on being able to understand and manage her clients’ expectations whilst providing realistic and practical advice. She acts with empathy and compassion when striving to achieve the best possible results for her clients.

Natasha is a volunteer lawyer with the Women’s Legal Service and is the Vice President of the Northern Suburbs Law Association. She is also a member of the Courts Practice Committee of the Family Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and Victorian Women Lawyers.

Mark Di Donato

Lawyer

University Qualifications

Bachelor of Criminology and Justice, Navitas College of Public Safety

Juris Doctor, Monash University

Email Mark Di Donato

mdidonato@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

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Mark started work at Forte Family Lawyers as part of his Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the Leo Cussen Institute for Law in 2019. Mark was later admitted into the legal practice in September 2019 and transitioned into a lawyer role with Forte Family Lawyers in February 2020.

Prior to his admission as a lawyer, Mark volunteered as a paralegal at Darebin Community Legal Centre and interned at a commercial law firm, where he gained valuable experience in property transactions and in intellectual property. Mark also completed a Professional Placement whilst completing his law degree where he provided legal advice on various family law matters through the Monash Law Clinic.

Mark is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, and the Law Institute of Victoria. Mark volunteers at the Darebin Community Legal Centre and has provided advice on a range of issues including family law.