Grant Hackett to sue over pre-nuptials with wife Candice Alley

Grant Hackett - no legal pre-nup

Grant Hackett – no legal pre-nup Picture: Richard Dobson

Fallen swim star Grant Hackett claims a botched pre-nuptial agreement with pop star wife Candice Alley has left him with financial losses.

Hackett, 32, has launched Supreme Court legal action against his former solicitors, the Brisbane-based Mullins Lawyers.

Court documents allege Hackett employed them on retainer between 2006 and 2009.

He says he asked them to draft a financial agreement, which was executed in March 2007, less than a month before his lavish wedding to Alley in Albert Park.

Financial agreements are Australia’s version of a pre-nuptial agreement but can also be made during the marriage or after separation.

Hackett’s personal fortune is understood to be about $8 million.

In court documents, Hackett says the agreement was amended in May 2009. The couple’s twins, Jagger and Charlize, were born in September that year.

The statement of claim alleges the 2007 financial agreement was drafted in a way that did not comply with legal requirements.

It further claims that Mullins Lawyers failed to take the opportunity to fix the problem when changes were made to the agreement in 2009 and did not tell Hackett there was any “defect”.

Hackett accuses the lawyers of neglecting or failing to perform their services with due care because they didn’t ensure the agreement was “effective, operative and enforceable”.

He says he was never told each party was required to have independent legal advice in order for the 2009 changes to comply with law.

“As a result of the breaches … the Plaintiff has suffered loss including legal costs,” court documents say. “The Plaintiff’s loss is continuing.”

The statement of claim alleges Hackett will continue to suffer loss because of Mullins Lawyers’ negligence and asks for damages.

A spokesperson for Mullins Lawyers said yesterday they did not want to comment on the case.

Hackett did not respond to calls.

Hackett’s marriage came to a dramatic end in May when the former swim star drunkenly trashed his Melbourne city apartment.

A piano was up-ended, a door smashed and furniture strewn across the home in what Hackett tearfully told 60 Minutes was an attempt to end the five-year marriage.

SchoolKids Bonus payments and paternity leave to be introduced in January

SchoolKids BonusPARENTS can expect a back-to-school January cash splash from the Gillard government with payments of up to $820 for every child.

Across Australia 1.5 million low and middle-income families with school-aged children can expect automatic payments to arrive in their bank accounts to help with back-to-school costs from January 9.

SchoolKids Bonus payments will go to all families who already get the means-tested Family Tax Benefit A.

For primary school children parents can expect $410 per child and for high school students $820 per child.

From January 1, the government will also introduce a two-week paid paternity leave plan for new dads allowing them to spend time with new babies.

The scheme will provide eligible working dads or partners, including adoptive parents and same sex partners, two weeks of government-funded pay at the rate of the national minimum wage of about $606 per week.

To be eligible, fathers must have made less than $150,000 in the previous financial year and meet a work and residency test. They must also take un-paid leave during the fortnight.

But single parents on parenting payments will lose cash when their youngest child turns eight because they will be shifted on to the Newstart Allowance unless they are in training or get a job.

About 78,000 will be affected from January 1, saving $728 million over four years.

“The government is keen to provide every assistance to improve their job opportunities,” Human Services Minister Kim Carr said.

Battling for The Children over the Christmas Holidays

child at xmas - separated parentsEMOTIONS can run high at Christmas as fractured families attempt to find common ground. Reminds me of something the late comic George Burns said: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”

Family lawyers identify the Christmas holidays as a hell-raising period, where the tenuous thread that holds a home together can snap, or when warring parents become ridiculously unreasonable when sorting custody arrangements.

Too often, children suffer.

Their gift at Christmas? Spiteful parents peddling hate. Relatives taking sides.

When mediation failed, many lodged orders with the Family Court. Others who missed the Christmas Day deadline of November 9 have been battling it out ever since in the Federal Magistrates Court.

Last month Australia’s 65 Family Relationship Centres were inundated with mums and dads trying to reach agreement on where their kids would spend this Tuesday and how the school holidays would be divvied up.

When mediation failed, many lodged orders with the Family Court. Others who missed the Christmas Day deadline of November 9 have been battling it out ever since in the Federal Magistrates Court.

It’s ugly business and it doesn’t end with the last serve of plum pudding.

Mediation expert Peter Sheehy says the feuding continues well into the New Year as parents react to “misinterpreted” court orders.

You only have to look back to May and those harrowing scenes of four girls being sent to Italy to comprehend the price kids pay for their parents’ point scoring.

The girls’ mother Laura Garrett, a hysterical wreck flailing about on an airport balcony, did them no favours.

Two weeks before the girls were dragged kicking and screaming by Australian Federal Police to board a plane to Europe, Garrett said she would stop at nothing to keep her kids here.

When the Family Court ordered the girls return to Italy, a relative took them into hiding. The court also heard that their maternal grandmother threatened to “murder the children” and to encourage her daughter (Garrett) to kill herself, too.

Crazy stuff, and you can bet that’s not the half of it.

As acclaimed 20th century author F. Scott Fitzgerald observed: “Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.”

Some adults can’t seem to see beyond themselves, perhaps because they were never shown love or tolerance as kids or taught to respect other people’s feelings.

Maybe their vision is clouded by emotional anguish, drugs, alcohol, a desire for revenge or sheer narcissism.

They place their own needs above the wellbeing of their children, and this, particularly at Christmas, is just not on.

If there’s one time of the year that kids come first, it’s now.

When the Family Court ordered the girls return to Italy, a relative took them into hiding. The court also heard that their maternal grandmother threatened to “murder the children” and to encourage her daughter (Garrett) to kill herself, too.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr David Fassler says that while parents have lived through many Christmases, for kids, every Christmas is monumental.

Kids coping with a divorce will inevitably compare the current holiday season to a previous one when the family was still together.

Some may feel overwhelmingly sad or angry.

There are steps parents can take to lighten the load on kids, Fassler says.

Allow kids to express their feelings. Don’t take their desire to spend time with the other parent personally.

Uphold family traditions, even if one parent is absent. This can help give kids an important grounding – even though some things have changed, parts of their world remains the same.

Avoid last-minute changes to plans. Kids need a degree of predictability and should be consulted on holiday decisions.

Ensure children get enough sleep. Staying up late often increases irritability the next day.

Encourage downtime. Leave room for quiet activities, such as listening to music, going for a bike ride or reading a book.

Don’t badmouth the other parent. Children generally see themselves as half of mum and half of dad. Criticise the parent, you criticise the child.

Finally, don’t overcompensate for a family split by spoiling your children with gifts.

What children want, more than anything, is to feel safe, secure and loved.

Sole carers in cash bind

cr-kylie-fisherHUNDREDS of single parents in Geelong could be up to $100 a week worse off when they are pushed off the single-parent pension and on to the Newstart allowance in less than two weeks.

Single parent and City of Greater Geelong councillor Kylie Fisher estimates she will lose $190 a fortnight due to the payment changes.

She is studying youth work part-time and spending about 30 hours a week on civic duties while trying to raise her three teenage children.

“I probably won’t be able to seek education any more, I’m sure I’ll have to go back to work,” Cr Fisher said.

Cr Fisher spoke out to highlight the hardships many will feel from January 1, when the changes apply.

“This will impact a lot of people in the northern suburbs, the eastern suburbs and right across Geelong and Victoria,” she said.

Based on census figures, nearly 11,000 families in the Geelong region are one-parent families, higher than state and national averages.

While the vast majority of single parents in Geelong are female, 17 per cent are male.

“It will affect single-parenting dads as well – they are really forgotten about,” Cr Fisher said.

There have been two sets of rules surrounding parenting payments following a change in 2006, where some parents were granted payments only until their child turned eight, while others were exempted.

The changes are tipped to save the Federal Government $728 million over four years.

One Geelong single parent, who didn’t wish to be identified, said she had been on the lower Newstart payments for the past three years and found it hard to make ends meet.

“If I’m going to pay the school fees, I’m probably not going to be able to put petrol in the car,” she said.

“You can fall in a hole really quickly because there is no back-up.”

Corio federal Labor MP Richard Marles said the changes meant the parenting-payment rules would be the same for everyone.

“At present there is inequity,” Mr Marles said.

“Some single parents can claim parenting payments until their youngest child turns eight while others – who started receiving parenting payments before 2006 – are able to claim parenting payments until their youngest child turned 16.”

Corangamite federal Liberal candidate Sarah Henderson said the changes lacked compassion.

The Federal Government is hoping the changes will encourage parents to engage with the workforce earlier.

Divorcee with cancer can stay in luxury home after eviction bid fails in Family Court

family-court-property-decisionsAN ex-wife who is battling cancer has won a bitter court fight to stay put in a $3 million mansion in Queensland after a failed bid by her ex-husband to kick her out of the former marital home.

Family Court Justice Colin Forrest ruled in favour of the woman after the ex-husband admitted to driving a luxury car while seeking a court order to sell a broken-down car in the garage she cannot afford to fix.

The long-running case is set to go to a trial in February, however Justice Forrest has ordered for trustees to be appointed to sell the property to fund a “rapidly increasing” $4 million debt.

The court heard the ex-husband refused to back away from his bid to sell his ex-wife’s car after learning friends were driving her to chemotherapy appointments because a $2000 car she purchased had also broken down.

When it was suggested by Justice Forrest that the ex-husband “could sell” his luxury sports car, the ex-husband’s lawyers argued “the costs of selling it are more than what could be produced”. The ex-husband’s lawyer also told the court the vehicle, which is costing $1000 a week, belongs to an “insolvent company”.

Justice Forrest said the ex-husband “seems to want to take the only vehicle that is available” to his ex-wife.

“Yet he has access to two vehicles,” he told a hearing this week. “There is absolutely no doubt that the circumstances present, at this point in the property proceedings, are compelling.

“(The ex-wife) is suffering from cancer which does not appear to be getting any better.

“She is attending weekly chemotherapy and should not be required to move out of the property until the sale.”

The ex-husband sought the order to “vacate”, alleging his ex-wife was “not likely to co-operate” with the trustee to market the property.

But Justice Forrest found the ex-wife was not “obstructive” and she accepted the property, located in an exclusive property hot spot, “must be sold”.

He has ordered the ex-husband to pay for her bond and rent of up to $600 a week after the sale of the property or if she moves out beforehand.

Meanwhile, concerns over a Family Court backlog have been reignited, with Queensland’s Justice Donna O’Reilly to retire on January 31.

It is unclear whether Justice O’Reilly will be replaced, with her decision likely to cause further angst among family law specialists over lengthy delays revealed by The Courier-Mail.

Latest figures show half of all litigants nationally are waiting for judgments more than three months after a final hearing.

For some, carbon tax is a baby bonus

A group of Victorian families with newborns will benefit in the first round of grants.

A group of Victorian families with newborns will benefit in the first round of grants.

A GROUP of first-time parents will get help with soaring power bills after the birth of their child as part of a new energy efficiency program.

The Federal Government is giving state-based charities and environment groups $100 million from the carbon tax to run projects for low-income Australians.

Among the people to get help in the first round of grants, worth about $40million, is the group of new parents in Victoria.

Other programs include helping pensioners in Queensland get energy efficient appliances, and guiding 1500 low-income households in Sydney through ways to save money in their homes.

The newborns program will allow 1200 first-time parents to have a home assessment to work out how to slash bills.

Environment Victoria, which will lead the program, says babies can add between 20 to 40 per cent to bills for some new parents.

Sustainable living manager at EV, Charlie Davie, said people could save hundreds of dollars if they take simple steps on energy efficiency.

“People are feeling extra pressure because prices are going up, and these sort of programs are essentially part of relieving that pressure,” he said.

“In many ways, what we are doing is offsetting those price rises.”

Some new parents will be able to re-enter the workforce as mentors for other families, once they have participated in the three-year project.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said data would be collected to help other families, particularly in areas where lots of people stay in long-term caravan parks or in remote Aboriginal communities.

There are 11 projects being run across six states and territories under round one of the grants program.

“This funding will be used to trial ways of helping low income households to become energy smart,” Mr Combet said.

“Up to 25,000 low income households are expected to benefit.”

NSW puts counselling before courts


NSW Minister for Women – Pru Goward

FAMILIES would spend less time in court and more time in conferences under a new approach to child protection in NSW, Minister for Women Pru Goward says.

She was speaking at the launch of a report on a pilot program of family group conferencing for cases involving child abuse and neglect.

The program, which seeks to resolve  child protection issues within the family, is the only alternative form of dispute resolution in NSW.

“It places families at the centre of planning in a way that court proceedings simply cannot,” Ms Goward said.

“We needed to move away from a system where families felt pitted against child protection services – ‘welfare’s coming to get your kids’.”

NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith said the adversarial nature of Children’s Court proceedings didn’t foster collaboration.

“People get very frustrated and angry when they can’t be heard, and it allows parents to ask questions so they can understand what’s happening and why,” he said.

He said many families involved in such cases were disadvantaged and could find court proceedings confusing and alienating.

The evaluation found 90 per cent of families in the pilot program were able to develop a family plan, and over 80 per cent of conferences resulted in the disputed issues being either fully resolved or narrowed.

“These programs will go a long way towards better including families in decisions regarding their child’s care – even if that decision is a wake-up call that the best thing is removal – and they can ensure that case workers spend less time in court and more time with families,” Ms Goward said.

Government slashes Victorian Legal Aid funding

legal-aid-cutsCUTS to Victorian Legal Aid services will increase delays in an already clogged court system, Bendigo Law Association president Luke Docherty says.

Bendigo’s VLA office will not be directly affected by staffing cuts recently announced by the organisation, but eligibility restrictions will mean many defendants miss out on representation when the demand on the legal service is at its highest.

Mr Docherty said demand for legal aid had risen significantly in Bendigo due to an increase in intervention orders, as well as the deployment of extra police and child protection workers, which resulted in more cases coming before court.

A duty solicitor is rostered on each court day to provide legal assistance to those who are unrepresented.

He said the VLA changes – to be brought in on January 7 – would have a huge impact on Bendigo.

“There will be a much greater reliance on the duty solicitor, which is already quite stretched,” he said.

A duty solicitor is rostered on each court day to provide legal assistance to those who are unrepresented.

“The duty solicitor is able to give some advice but they are not going to be able to represent everyone,” Mr Docherty said.

“It will mean more and more people go in unrepresented, and that will clog up the system.

“These people don’t have the skills necessary to present their case. When you’ve got someone who doesn’t even know where they need to stand in court… it takes up a lot of time.

It’s going to create longer delays and more injustices because they won’t be able to present their defences appropriately.”

VLA announced last week it would cut staffing levels by four per cent in a bid to combat rising costs from increases in private lawyers’ fees.

VLA managing director Bevan Warner said Commonwealth government funding had not kept pace with demand for legal assistance.

Mr Warner said Legal Aid had to prioritise its services for those with the greatest need.

The changes… will include limiting funding of parents in family law matters…

The changes will affect all of VLA’s program areas – criminal law, family, youth and children’s law and civil justice – and will include limiting funding of parents in family law matters, lifting the threshold of assistance for people with unpaid fines, capping instructing solicitor fees in indictable crime trials, tightening rules on funding criminal appeals, and restricting funding in child protection matters.

Mr Docherty said he was worried that eventually the cuts would go so far that people would have to be facing immediate imprisonment to qualify for legal aid.

He said that was already the case for most driving matters, and he expected to see more and more of these matters being passed onto duty solicitors.

“People come in at 9am and they can wait two or three hours before they are actually seen by the duty solicitor,” he said.

“Depending on the complexity of the matter there sometimes isn’t enough time to see everyone, well there is now, but there won’t be soon.”

Mr Docherty said there needed to be more funding from both state and commonwealth governments and a revaluation of how that funding was used.

“We work diligently to protect our clients, but you’re hamstrung when you might have 25 clients to see in the day and you’ve got to get the matters in court,” he said.

Legal Aid’s $3m deficit leads to cuts

Victoria-legal-aidVICTORIA Legal Aid gave private lawyers and staff a pay rise of more than $7 million a year before announcing drastic changes to its eligibility guidelines to quell its funding crisis.

The organisation recorded a $3.1 million budget deficit last financial year and says it faces an even greater blowout this year due to an ”unprecedented demand” for its services in line with an increased number of police and child protection orders under the Baillieu government’s family violence prevention policies.

It says the rise in demand has not been matched by a commensurate boost to funding.

Legal Aid’s latest annual report largely attributed last year’s deficit to its 2.5 per cent fee boost for summary crime – in line with the state government’s inflation rate – and 10 per cent boost to all private practitioner fees, which cost $7.2 million. Private lawyers currently manage about three-quarters of Legal Aid’s case load.

Legal Aid also increased lawyers’ fees for summary crime contested hearings in the Magistrates’ Court and Children’s Court ”in recognition of the skills and effort associated with a contest requiring evidence handling and submission skills”.

”The biggest driver in our increased spending has not been staff costs or operational expenses but payments to private practitioners, which increased by 18.7 per cent in 2011-12,” a Legal Aid spokeswoman said. ”This is due to a mixture of fee increases, an increased number of grants and increased service intensity.”

The president of the Law Institute of Victoria, Michael Holcroft, said the pay rise made up for six years in lost inflation, with private lawyers paid a ”substantially reduced rate” for legal aid matters than for private cases. He said Legal Aid had not informed private lawyers of its financial woes when the fees were increased.

The organisation also gave its staff a 6 per cent pay rise last year under an agreement negotiated in 2009, which led to employee benefits rising by $4.8 million. It hired 14 new staff last year and spent $164,000 more on temporary staff. Last week it said about 4 per cent of staff – about 25 people – would lose their jobs next year.

Legal Aid also spent $166,000 more on sundry expenses. The spokesman declined to comment on what this entailed but said $400,000 had been saved ”by putting a very tight rein on our spending in areas like printing”.

Legal Aid last week announced the most wide-ranging changes to eligibility guidelines in its history – including scrapping funding for parents in family law matters beyond trial preparation. The changes, which will shift more work to its duty lawyers, were criticised by private lawyers and the police union, who say they will increase the number of people representing themselves and clog up the court system.

Legal Aid also said it would save money on a central dictation system and by replacing prison visits with telephone calls. A training program for new lawyers would be scaled back.

A spokesman for state Attorney-General Robert Clark said legal aid funding was at record levels. ”There are also opportunities to spend the available dollars more wisely … and to reduce delays and costs .”

Adoption rate drops to all-time low, says Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Adoption in AustraliaADOPTION has dropped to an all-time low, as prospective parents wait up to six years to give a home to a child from Asia.

Just 333 children were adopted last financial year, the lowest number on record, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare will reveal today.

And for the first time in 13 years, Australian children outnumbered foreign kids, with 55 per cent of adopted children coming from overseas.

Foster parents and step-parents are the most likely to adopt an Australian child already in their care.

The number of adoptions has fallen 84 per cent in the past 25 years, since the institute began compiling statistics.

Most of the adopted foreign children came from The Philippines, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Ethiopia and Thailand, with 86 per cent arriving from Asia.

The Federal Government banned adoptions from Ethiopia in June this year, citing an “increasingly unpredictable, complex and uncertain” adoption environment in the impoverished African country.

Prospective parents are now waiting four-and-a-half years, on average, between the time they are given official approval and the child’s arrival.

Australians are having to wait six years, on average to adopt a child from China.

The AIHW report says the delays are out of Australia’s control.

South Korea now gives priority to local adoptions, and has reduced the number of exit permits for children.

Domestic adoption numbers in India have more than doubled in the past five years, and Thailand has introduced a quota for children sent overseas.

Lithuania now only accepts adoption applications from people of Lithuanian origin.

Only one in four of the children adopted last financial year were babies.

The AIHW blames the downturn on legislative changes in Australia and overseas, as well as falling “supply and demand”.

“Adoption used to be regarded as a solution to illegitimate babies, the risk of impoverishment for single mothers, and the needs of infertile couples,” the report says.

“However, over the last four decades there has been increasing social acceptance of raising children outside registered marriage and increased levels of support available to lone parents.

“These changes have reduced the pressure on unmarried women to give up their children for adoption.”

AIHW spokesman Tim Beard said infertile couples could now access IVF to have their own children, rather than adopt.

The AIWH report also reveals that 8302 Australians who were adopted, who gave their child up for adoption or who adopted a child have resisted attempts at a reunion.

More than 4500 adopted children have lodged “vetoes” to stop government agencies providing information about them to a birth parent.

And 3238 birth mothers are refusing to provide information to the child they surrendered.

Only 425 adoptive parents have refused to provide information to biological parents or adopted children.

The vetoes have been lodged since the 1990s.