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  • Family law litigants often experience inequality, and thus disadvantage, in terms of their capacity to pay legal bills during litigation.
  • A remedy for this is the so called ‘dollar-for-dollar’ order, designed to level the playing field.
  • There are two main schools of thought on these orders:
    • The orders are uncertain and therefore can’t be considered ‘just’;
    • The orders are considered ‘just’ because the timing and amount of the order is determined by the payer’s legal bills.

After separation, it is often the case that the wealth and resources of the parties are  controlled by one spouse who derives an advantage from being in a superior financial position to fund their legal costs, usually from matrimonial property. The desirability of legal representation for both parties and achieving fairness in access to representation underpin the concept of dollar-for-dollar cost orders.

Dollar-for-dollar orders have been described as ‘a set of machinery provisions to ensure that for any dollar the financially advantaged party spends on legal costs and disbursements on the case, the disadvantaged party is also provided a dollar to spend on their case’ (Verdon & Verdon [2020] FamCA 824 at [131] (‘Verdon’). The amount and timing of payment to the payee is determined by the payer’s payment of their own legal bills.

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