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Jacky Campbell, August 2016

Hall, the High Court and spousal maintenance

The High Court considered spousal maintenance and the term “financial resources” in Hall v Hall (2016) FLC 93-709. An earlier article discussing the decisions of the trial judge and the Full Court in detail and can be read here.

Overview

The High Court, in Hall, considered:

  • The meaning of “financial resources” in s 75(2)(b) Family Law Act 1975 (“FLA”);
  • Whether it was open on the evidence before the Full Court for it to find that the wife was able to support herself adequately; and
  • Whether “financial resources” was confined to present legal entitlements.

The majority judges were French CJ, Gageler, Keene and Nettle JJ, but there was a strong dissent by Justice Gordon.

The wife’s appeal to the High Court was from an order of the Full Court of the Family Court which discharged an interim maintenance order in her favour. Although the order was described by the trial Judge as having been made on an urgent basis under s 77, in subsequent proceedings the parties treated it as an interim order under s 74(1).

The High Court majority was critical of the delays in the proceedings, noting that an objective of s 97(3) FLA is that the proceedings are “not protracted” and an objective under r 1.04 of the Family Law Rules 2004 is that “each case is resolved in a just and timely manner”.

Prerequisites for a maintenance order

The High Court majority outlined the legislative prerequisites for making a spousal maintenance order under Pt VIII of the FLA.

Section 72(1) is the “gateway” to the operation of spousal maintenance. It provides that:

“[a] party to a marriage is liable to maintain the other party, to the extent that the first-mentioned party is reasonably able to do so, if, and only if, that other party is unable to support herself or himself adequately… having regard to any relevant matter referred to in [s] 75(2).”

The liability of a party to a marriage to maintain the other party is imposed by s 72(1), and is crystallised by the making of an order under s 74(1). Section 74(1) provides that:

“[i]n proceedings with respect to the maintenance of a party to a marriage, the court may make such order as it considers proper for the provision of maintenance in accordance with this Part.”

A court exercising the power conferred by s 74(1) is obliged by s 75(1) to take into account the matters referred to in s 75(2). This “comprehensive checklist” includes, relevantly for this case:

s 75(2)(b) – “the income, property and financial resources of each of the parties and the physical and mental capacity of each of them for appropriate gainful employment”
s 75(2)(o) – “any fact or circumstances which, in the opinion of the court, the justice of the case requires to be taken into account.”

The High Court distinguished between permanent orders, interim orders and urgent orders.

Prerequisites for discharging an order

There is also the power under s 83(1)(c) to discharge the order “if there is any just cause for so doing”. This imports a need for the court to be satisfied of circumstances which justify the court considering the threshold requirement again (Astbury & Astbury (1978) FLC 90-494). The court must find “just cause” on the basis of the wording of the Act (although these cases were not referred to by the High Court, see Wreford & Caley [2010] FamCAFC 21 at para 56 and Lutzke & Lutzke (1979) FLC 90-714). For the purpose of considering whether to discharge an order, the court is specifically required to have regard to ss 72 and 75 and the applicant for discharge of the order can re-open examination of the threshold requirement of s 72(1).

Circumstances of the parties

The parties were married for 12 years and had two children. The husband was a property developer and the wife was a medical practitioner. Their respective incomes were not discussed by the High Court, but it was accepted in the lower courts that the wife could not support herself adequately from her own earnings. At trial she was earning $300 per week.

The wife disclosed in her sworn documents in November 2013 that she was the owner of two luxury motor vehicles which had been purchased for her by her brothers. She also disclosed that she had an “interest” in the estate of her late father, the value of which was not known to her. Her father had died four years previously, having started the family business in which she had never had an active role. The business was run through a corporate structure controlled by her brothers. She did not have a copy of her father’s will and did not know the particulars of her father’s estate.

The husband deposed to his net worth as being $21 million and his taxable income as $80,340, with unspecified drawings “from various entities as and when needed”.

The trial judge ordered that the husband pay to the wife the sum of $10,833 per month by way of spousal maintenance pending the final determination of the proceeding.

The trial judge said that the absence of information about the nature and extent of any interest of the wife in the estate of her late father meant that no such interest could be take into account as a financial resource of the wife in determining the wife’s application for maintenance. The trial judge found that she was satisfied on the evidence as to the wife’s need for maintenance and the husband’s ability to pay.

The terms of the wife’s father’s will

After the delivery of the judgment, the husband attempted to subpoena the Will of the wife’s late father. These proceedings were reported as Hall & Hall [2016] FamCA 143. The husband was unsuccessful, but an affidavit was sworn by a solicitor acting for one of the brothers and filed in support of the brother’s opposition to disclosure of the Will. The solicitor said there were concerns for the personal safety of the family and for that reason an application for probate had not been made and the production of the Will was opposed.

The property dealt with in the Will included shares in companies within the V Group. The V Group was one of the largest business enterprises in South Australia. Under the Will, all of the father’s shares were given to the wife’s brothers and none were given to the wife apart from some which she had received prior to her father’s death.

One clause of the Will related to the wife. The wife’s father expressed the ”wish” that the wife should receive from the V Group a lump sum payment of $16,500,000 on the first to occur of a number of specified events. One of the specified events was that the wife and the husband divorced. The father also expressed a “wish” that the wife should receive from the V Group an annual payment of $150,000 until the date (if any) that the lump sum payment of $16,500,000 was made.

Application to discharge the maintenance order

Based on the disclosure by the wife’s brother’s solicitor as to the terms of the Will insofar as they related to the wife, the husband filed an application to discharge the interim maintenance order. He relied on the “benefit” of the annual payment which her deceased father had conferred on the wife.

In response, the wife filed an affidavit setting out that she had recently spoken to one of her brothers who had explained the contents of the Will to her. She stated that she had “not received any income or capital payment from my late father’s estate” but did not say whether or not she had requested payment from the V Group in accordance with the wishes expressed by her father in the Will.

The trial judge delivered judgment 3 months later, dismissing the husband’s application. This was reported as Hall & Hall (No.3) [2014] FamCA 406. The reasons made no reference to the evidence or the issue about whether or not the wife might be able to obtain the annual payment of $150,000 from the V Group.

Delays in appeal to the Full Court

The husband’s application for leave to appeal to the Full Court was lodged in July 2014. The application was heard in November 2014 and judgment in relation to both the application for leave and the appeal itself, was delivered in August 2015. The High Court majority said the delay was unexplained and on any view, the delay was unacceptable. Section 97(3) FLA states:

“In proceedings under this Act, the court shall proceed without undue formality and shall endeavour to ensure that the proceedings are not protracted.”

This was described by the High Court as an “objective” and was linked to r 1.04 Family Law Rules 2004, which states:

“The main purpose of these Rules is to ensure that each case is resolved in a just and timely manner at a cost to the parties that is reasonable in the circumstances of the case.”

Decision of the Full Court of the Family Court

At the hearing before the Full Court the wife adduced further evidence, being a letter from one of her brothers explaining that neither the $150,000 nor the payment of $16,500,000 were to be paid to the wife and that as executor the brother had no obligation to the wife in respect of these amounts. The letter re-emphasised the voluntary nature of the payments stated as wishes of the wife’s father.

The Full Court found that the trial Judge erred in failing “to consider, and indeed make any finding as to whether there was sufficient new evidence before her to discharge the interim spousal maintenance order” (at para 131 of the Full Court and para 29 of the High Court).

The Full Court found there was evidence that demonstrated that the wife was able to support herself adequately as she would have received the payment of $150,000 per annum from her brothers if she requested it. There was nothing in the evidence to suggest that any such request, if made, would have been denied. The Full Court considered that the fact that her brothers had provided her with luxury motor vehicles indicated that she had a good relationship with them.

The Full Court granted the husband leave to appeal, allowed the appeal and discharged the interim maintenance order retrospectively from the date the maintenance order was made – over one and a half years previously.

Appeal to the High Court

The wife appealed to the High Court on the following grounds:

  1. A failure of process – the wife’s ability to request the V Group to make a voluntary annual payment to her was not raised by the husband on appeal at first instance. She said that she had met the argument that she had a legal entitlement to the payment. If it had been apparent that the husband was alleging that she was able to request that the Group make a voluntary annual payment, she would have placed further evidence before the court on that issue.
  2. Substantive reasoning:

(a) It was not open on the evidence to infer that the voluntary annual payment would have been made to her if she requested it.

(b) Even if it was established that the voluntary annual payment would have been made to her if she requested it, that did not constitute a proper basis for concluding that she was able to support herself adequately within the meaning of s 72(1). Her ability to obtain a voluntary payment by asking for it was not a “financial resource” within the meaning of s 75(2)(b) and the Full Court did not and could not form an opinion that it was a fact or circumstance which the justice of the case required to be taken into account so as to bring it within s 75(2)(o).

The husband contended that the annual payment of $150,000 was not voluntary but was an equitable obligation. The High Court found that it was unnecessary for it to address that argument.

The High Court majority rejected the failure of process argument. There was no ambiguity in the husband’s argument before the Full Court that the inference should be drawn that the annual payment of $150,000 would be given to the wife if she chose to ask her brothers for it. The inference was more readily drawn given the wife’s failure to adduce evidence about it. The wife was fully aware of the risks of running her case on the basis she did. The majority said (at para 44):

“Throughout the proceedings, at first instance and on appeal, the wife was on notice of the risk of a finding being made that she would have received the annual payment of $150,000 if she had asked her brothers for it. The fair inference is that she chose to run that risk, hoping that it would not eventuate and conscious that such evidence relevant to that finding as she might adduce would not assist her case.”

The finding was open

The Full Court majority found that it was open on the evidence before the Family Court for the court to find that the wife would have received the $150,000 annual payment if she asked for it. Although she had not received it since her father’s death, the reasons for this failure were wholly unexplored. That evidentiary gap was within the power of the wife to fill and her failure to lead evidence allowed the inference to be drawn that such explanation as she was able to provide would not have assisted her case.

The High Court majority described (at para 47) the affidavit of the brother’s solicitor and the letter from the brother as being “cleverly worded”. The documents were “most informative in what they do not say: that the Group … was inclined not to pay”.

As the brothers had received the benefit of their father’s testamentary largesse, the High Court majority said (at para 46) that:

“… the brothers were at least under a moral obligation to honour their father’s wish that the wife receive the payments from the Group”, to which he had referred in the Will. The Group undoubtedly had the wherewithal to make the payments, and there was no evidence to suggest amorality or personal animus on the part of any of the three brothers which might in turn suggest that they might not fulfil that moral obligation.”

The finding that the wife would have received the payment if she asked for it was relevant under both s 75(2)(b) and s 75(2)(o).

Moral Obligation
The emphasis by the High Court on the “moral obligation” of the wife’s brothers was curious, given the criticism expressed by the High Court majority in Stanford v Stanford (2012) FLC 93-518 about the Full Court of the Family Court’s finding that (at para 12 of the High Court):

“… the many years of marriage [of the parties] and the wife’s contributions demand that those moral obligations be discharged by an order for property settlement.”

The High Court majority said in Stanford (at para 52):

“Whether it was just and equitable to make a property settlement order in this case was not answered by pointing to moral obligations. Reference to “moral” claims or obligations is at the very least apt to mislead. First, such references appear to invite circular reasoning. On its face, the invocation of moral claims or obligations assumes rather than demonstrates the existence of a legal right to a property settlement order and further assumes that the extent of that claim or obligation can and should be measured by reference to the several matters identified in s 79(4) … Moreover, if the word “moral” was being used in this context with some wider meaning or application, it is important to recognise that it is used in a way that finds no legal foundation in the Act or elsewhere. It is, therefore, a term that may, and in this case did, mislead. The rights of the parties were to be determined according to law, not by reference to other, non-legal considerations.”

It is difficult to reconcile the attitude of the High Court to moral claims in Hall with those expressed in Stanford. Although the High Court was dealing with a property claim under s 79 in Stanford, and in Hall it was dealing with whether a maintenance order ought to have been discharged, the wording of the relevant legislative provisions in both cases made reference to it being “just” and there was a pathway for the court to follow in each case which did not include “moral” obligations of the parties or third parties.

What is a financial resource?

The term ”financial resources” was defined by the High Court, so as to extend to potential sources of financial support if the factual inquiry supported that the source could reasonably be expected to be forthcoming were the party to call on it. The High Court majority said (at paras 54-56):

“The reference to “financial resources” in the context of s 75(2)(b) has long been correctly interpreted by the Family Court to refer to “a source of financial support which a party can reasonably expect will be available to him or her to supply a financial need or deficiency” (Kelly & Kelly (No.2) (1981) FLC 91-108). The requirement that the financial resource be that “of” a party no doubt implies that the source of financial support be one on which the party is capable of drawing. It must involve something more than an expectation of benevolence on the part of another. But it goes too far to suggest that the party must control the source of financial support. Thus, it has long correctly been recognised that a nominated beneficiary of a discretionary trust, who has no control over the trustee but who has a reasonable expectation that the trustee’s discretion will be exercised in his or her favour, has a financial resource to the extent of that expectation (Kelly & Kelly (No.2) (1981) FLC 91-108).
Whether a potential source of financial support amounts to a financial resource of a party turns in most cases on a factual inquiry as to whether or not support from that source could reasonably be expected to be forthcoming were the party to call on it.
Here, on the Full Court’s finding of fact, the annual payment from the Group was a financial resource of the wife so as to be a matter within s 75(2)(b). The payment was available to her if she asked for it. The availability of the payment was the subject of specific provision in the father’s will. The making of the payment was at least a moral obligation of the wife’s brothers, who were in any case well-disposed towards her.”

The High Court majority found that the annual payment was also relevant under s 75(2)(o), saying (at para 58):

“Because it bore centrally on the ability of the wife to support herself adequately, the availability to the wife of the annual payment from the Group was also a fact or circumstance in respect of which it was open to the Family Court to form the opinion that the justice of the case required that it be taken into account.”

Dissenting judgment
Gordon J gave a strong dissenting judgment. He summarised the facts and matters on which the inference was drawn (at para 7):

“1. The wife had a “good relationship” with her brothers;
2. The father’s Will expressed a “wish” in relation to an annual payment;
3. The brothers had provided the wife with late-model luxury motor vehicles;
4. The wife had not requested that a payment be made in accordance with the “wish” in the father’s Will, and
5. The brothers had not rejected such a request and there was no suggestion that the brother who was the executor would object to such a voluntary payment.”

Matters which Gordon J said (at paras 72–78) counted against the drawing of the inference were:

  • The wife was not provided with a copy of the Will when her father died;
  • The wife was not provided with a copy of the Will when she asked for one after separation;
  • The wife had not received any income or capital from her father’s estate;
  • The brothers’ conduct suggested an unwillingness to disclose the contents of the Will to the wife and to comply with their father’s stated wish in relation to their sister;
  • There is a difference between having a good relationship with someone and being willing to give them large sums of money on a regular basis;
  • At best, if the wife had made a request for payment, that was only an “intermediate step” to the payment being made;
  • There was a distinction between the capacity of the Group to pay and the willingness of the brothers to cause it to pay; and
  • A finding that two luxury vehicles had been purchased by the brothers personally for the wife was different to the Group making a voluntary annual indexed payment of $150,000 net of tax.

He said (at para 76) that the brothers’ conduct did not support a finding that they would have caused the V Group to make a payment to the wife if requested.

“On the contrary, their conduct suggested an unwillingness to disclose the contents of the Will to the wife and an unwillingness to comply with their father’s stated wish in relation to the wife, their sister. In this respect, the wife’s position stands in stark contrast to the position of a beneficiary of a discretionary trust who has no control over the trustee but has a reasonable expectation, by reference to past distributions, that the trustee’s discretion will be exercised in their favour.”

Gordon J used the same definition of “financial resources” as the majority. He agreed that it was not confined to the present legal entitlements of the parties and extended to include “a source of financial support which a party can reasonably expect will be available to him or her to supply a financial need or deficiency”. (Kelly & Kelly (No.2) (1981) FLC 91-108; see also Kennon v Spry (2008) FLC 93-388). He disagreed with the High Court majority in the application of that proposition to the present circumstances, saying (at para 91):

“However, it cannot be said that the father’s wish (for an annual payment to the wife, which had not been effected by the brothers or the V Group in the more than four years since the father’s death) was a source of financial support which, if the wife requested, the wife could reasonably expect would be available to her to supply a financial need.”

He concluded that as the wife had no right to a payment, the wife asking for a payment was not more pressing and persuasive than her father’s formally recorded wish. The brothers had been unwilling even to provide the Will to the wife, so there was no basis to infer that the wife’s request would tip the balance in favour of the brothers making the payment.

Conclusion
The High Court majority in Hall possibly broadened the interpretation of a “financial resource” by finding that a “wish” expressed in a Will of a third party could amount to a financial resource and used to establish that a party to a marriage has the ability to support themselves and therefore is not entitled to maintenance from their spouse. The High Court majority was satisfied that the finding was open to the Full Court of the Family Court that the wife would have received the voluntary annual payment from her brothers if she asked for it. The moral obligation of the brothers was given weight.

The High Court majority drew an analogy between the rights of a discretionary beneficiary of a trust and the right of the wife to ask for a payment to be made to her pursuant to a wish expressed in Will that she receive annual payments.

By contrast, in a strong dissenting judgment, Gordon J rejected the broader interpretation of “financial resources” relied upon by the majority and the notion that the finding that the voluntary payment would have been made to the wife if she had asked for it. He distinguished her position from that of the beneficiary of a trust.

The application of Hall to future cases is difficult to discern. On the one hand, the majority said it was applying existing law as to the definition of a “financial resource”. On the other hand, the majority, if not broadening the definition of “financial resources”, applied it in somewhat surprising circumstances where there was little, if any, evidence that the wife had a reasonable expectation that the payment would be made if she asked for it.

The clearest message from the decision is that there are risks involved in running a case and not adducing evidence which might prove a point one way or another. In this case, the wife did not ask her brothers to make the voluntary payment and therefore could not and did not give evidence as to the response she received from her brothers to her request. Both the Full Court of the Family Court and a majority of the High Court were able to draw conclusions which were unfavourable to the wife because of the gap in the evidence.

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.

Jane Bentley

Senior Associate

University Qualifications

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

Bachelor of Laws, Victoria University

Bachelor of Science, University of Melbourne

Email Jane Bentley

jbentley@fortefamilylawyers.com.au

Other Qualifications

Accredited Family Law Specialist, Law Institute of Victoria

Jane is a Senior Associate at Forte Family Lawyers. Jane is an Accredited Family Law Specialist as a recognised by the Law Institute of Victoria. Accredited Specialists demonstrate superior knowledge, experience and proficiency in their specialist area of law.

Additionally, Jane has undertaken a Masters of Applied Law in Family Law.

Prior to joining the firm, Jane has worked in both the private and community sectors where she worked on both complex parenting and property matters, regularly appeared in the Family Law Courts and through her work at a commercial firm Jane was able to build and enhance her commercial skills. Throughout her career, Jane has worked collaboratively with commercial lawyers providing advice where both family and commercial law intersect, as well as working directly with professionals on family law matters including psychologists, mediators, accountants and financial advisors.

Jane has a wide range of experience in different family law matters including financial agreements, family violence, parenting, IVF issues, matters involving grandparents, Hague Child Abduction Convention, child support, property and spousal maintenance.

Jane prides herself on her ability to communicate effectively with her clients during an emotional and challenging time. Jane builds strong relationships with her clients as she recognises that the legal system can appear complex and daunting and works with her clients to guide them through the process.

Jane is a member of the Courts Practice and the Property and Maintenance Committees of the Law Institute of Victoria which ensures that she is appraised of recent developments in family law and at the Family Law Courts. Jane is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia.

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

 

 

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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.