Church Law

Experience in every dimension of Church Law

Churches and religious institutions often face difficulties concerning the interplay between church law, as the theological identity of the church, and the church laws governing its structure as a legal entity and dealings with other people. There is rarely a perfect alignment between the two. The reasons for this are complicated, but through practical experience, academic research and the sheer number of matters we have advised on, we are well positioned to help you strike the necessary balance.

Knowledge of Church law supported by first-hand experience

The solicitors at Neumann & Turnour Lawyers have extensive Church law experience. We give legal advice and have for a long time. But many of our solicitors have also been leaders, elders, deacons and board members of churches. We have worked for and with churches as advisors, office-holders and volunteers. Because of this, we have the insight necessary to understand both the legal and practical dimensions of Church operations.

We know that not all religious institutions are the same. In most religious contexts, ‘church’ means more than attendance at a weekly service, even if that is not the manner in which ‘church’ is recognised socially. Church law is just as multi-faceted.

The Key Role of Theology in Church Law

The way a Church is organised is often grounded in its theology. Different organisational forms, as well as the reasons for those organisational forms, are recognised by the Courts, but it often takes experienced lawyers to ensure that those reasons are properly identified, implemented and explained at all stages.

Where structuring is concerned, we take your theological position concerning the identity of the church, considered in light of:

  • the requirements with which the church must comply as a legal structure;
  • our extensive experience with other clients within this sector; and
  • lived experience.

This way we can ensure that the church as a legal entity facilitates the religious purposes for which it exists. 

Simplifying Complexity

Many religious institutions also operate social welfare programs which may be funded by donations. Different legal principles drawn from many different source can apply to these programs. Statutory or regulatory frameworks as well as from common law or equity can impose different expectations than would apply to the Church. Sometimes the principles to be applied can be obscure. But they can create the risk of substantial liability if not applied. Multiple corporate structures, partnerships, joint ventures or alliancing may be required in order to achieve all your objectives while obtaining and retaining all of the registrations and endorsements the government requires an institution to have.

The simplicity or complexity of the structure will depend upon the nature and scope of your aspirations and the extent to which they are consistent with the legal framework in which charities and not-for-profits operate. Regardless of where your organisation falls within this spectrum, the solution will be uniquely adapted to you and your organisation in order to achieve your goals or objects.

While not all laws applicable to Churches apply to all charities or not-for-profits, many of the laws that apply to charities and not-for-profits will apply to Churches. Our page on Charity Law and Not-for-profits has more information about the services we provide to the charity and not-for-profit sector.

Handling differences of opinion

Church leaders, church members, congregants, communicants, paid staff, volunteers and participants in Churches often have deep spiritual and social connections that lead to holding strong views. Strong views, strongly expressed, can lead to difficult disputes. This can particularly be the case when a dispute involves corporate governance, regulatory compliance or property – three areas in which Courts often have no hesitance intervening. 

Our Church law team of extensive training and experience advising as to the legal rights and obligations arising out of a church context and assisting to define and resolve complex disputes. We do not like to see the resources of a church being taken up in protracted litigation and will work with you to identify strategies to identify and reach a sensible resolution that has full regard to the needs and future of a Church. Where it looks as though a negotiated resolution is unlikely, we take all steps to expedite any litigation to ensure it is resolved as quickly and effeciently as possible.

Legal Services

Our experience is broad and varied, which helps us to be flexible in assessing your needs and assisting you to achieve your desired outcomes. Some of the more common issues which we have seen include:

Structuring and restructuring of organisations as any one or more of the following:

  • company limited by guarantee
  •  incorporated association
  • charitable trusts
  • letters patent
  • unincorporated association

Charitable registrations:

  • ACNC applications and registrations under any head of charity including:
    • the advancement of education
    • the advancement of religion
    • the advancement of social or public welfare
    • public benevolent institutions (PBI)
  • ACNC reporting and investigations
  • ATO endorsements including:
    • income tax exemption
    • endorsement as a deductible gift recipient
  • Charitable fundraising licencing, reporting and renewals
  • Transfer Duty, Stamp Duty, Land Tax charitable concessions and exemptions

Commercial Transactions pertaining to Churches:

  • buying and selling property
  • leasing (as tenant or as landlord) or licensing
  • commercial and licencing agreements
  • funding agreement
  • church mergers

Assistance and advice to handle disputes or litigation, including:

  • internal dispute resolution strategies
  • membership and corporate disputes
  • disputes over the handling of trust property
  • investigations
  • responding to historical abuse claims

See also our page on Charities and Not-for-Profits

To speak to one of our church lawyers about legal issues pertaining to your not-for-profit or charity, or to review the existing policies, procedures and arrangements put in place by your church for compliance, please fill out the form below to arrange a consultation.
Key Contacts

Dr Matthew Turnour

Nathan Rieck

Chris Mills

Get in touch to arrange a consultation