Australia: Five things to do before you meet with a family lawyer

As family lawyers, we often hear clients express concerns about legal costs after separation; it is well known that separation can be expensive. However, it is possible to save time and money simply by being prepared before meeting with us. In this update, we have outlined some tips to help you ensure you get the most out of any meetings you have with your family lawyer.

  1. Identify what you want to achieve. There can be a tendency for clients to focus on their 'rights' rather than what is actually important to them. When clients focus on rights, they can lose sight of what it is they want to achieve following a separation. You may not be able to get everything you want, but if you can identify with your lawyer early on what is most important to you, your lawyer can help focus on those things when structuring your settlement or agreement. Talking about what is important to you also gives your lawyer the chance to give realistic advice about how those things can be addressed in any settlement.
  2. Understand your lawyer's role. Your family lawyer is there to guide you through the legal aspects of separation and help you and your former spouse or partner to reach agreement or, if necessary, go with you to court to ask a judge to make the decisions you consider are best for your family. However, there are ethical and practical constraints around what issues your lawyer can help you with. Listen to your family lawyer if they recommend that other professionals may be able to help you deal with separation.
  3. Source appropriate emotional support. This is really the counterpoint to the matters we discuss at point 2. Your family lawyer cannot help you heal emotionally from your separation, nor can they give you the therapeutic tools to help you cope day to day with your former partner's attitude, personality or approach to parenting. While family and friends can be a great source of comfort, you may find it very helpful to seek outside support from a counsellor or psychologist after separation and during any settlement negotiations. Consulting a counsellor or psychologist doesn't mean you are weak or that you can't make decisions on your own; it simply means that ending a relationship is difficult and can have a significant impact on every aspect of your life. Accessing appropriate emotional support will allow you to be better equipped to consider legal advice and make decisions that impact your future.
  4. Prepare a chronology of important dates and information. Spend some time preparing background information to take with you to your initial appointment. You are going to be asked lots of questions, such as: When did your relationship start? When did you get married? When were any children born? What property / assets are there? When was any real estate purchased and what was the purchase price? What are your financial needs? It is always helpful if you put some thought into those matters before the first meeting. When you call to make the appointment, ask what information would be helpful for the appointment. The more information your lawyer has from the outset, the faster they will be able to give you advice that is tailored to your specific circumstances, saving you time and money.
  5. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. Don't think for one minute that your lawyer doesn't appreciate they are asking you to divulge very personal information about you, your partner and your family, in a very short time after meeting them. We know you may be uncomfortable talking about those things. However, for your lawyer to be able to do the best job they can for you, you need to be open and honest about the circumstances of your relationship and separation, your concerns (if any) in relation to safety and violence, alcohol or substance dependency and medical or mental illness. This will help to ensure your settlement addresses all of the issues relevant to you and the family law courts.

For most people, ending a relationship is one of the most distressing experiences they encounter in their life. Seeing a lawyer in the midst of that distress can be daunting, especially at a time when you are already feeling vulnerable. However, making sure you're well prepared from the outset will mean you are getting the most out of each and every meeting you have with your lawyer.

Once you have selected the family lawyer you think will be best for you, we recommend you take some time to properly prepare for your first meeting. The time you put into preparation will help ensure you get the most out of your meeting and hopefully, in the long run, save you legal costs and heartache.

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Winner – ALB Gold Employer of Choice 2011 and 2012
Finalist – ALB Australasian Law Awards 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Best Brisbane Firm)
Winner – BRW Client Choice Awards 2009 and 2010 - Best Australian Law Firm (revenue less than $50m)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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