At the outset, it should be said that in my practice I will do everything possible to avoid having my clients enter the Family Law Court system. After nearly 20 years in the jurisdiction, no client has ever left the courtroom telling me that they really enjoyed the experience!
The Family Law Courts have at times been described as “a legal cage fight”.
The truth is that having your personal Family Law matter in the Family Law Court system is tough and can also be very expensive, particularly if your matter proceeds to Trial. The jurisdiction encourages and requires the filing of affidavit material and it is usual for affidavit material to set out your concerns about your ex-partner (and visa versa, their concerns about you).
If you are able to resolve your parenting or property matter through either mediation (Family Dispute Resolution) or negotiation, then you should.
There are some exceptions and some matters where a court application is not avoidable. Examples include:
- Where there has been family violence
- Urgent applications or where you and your ex-partner have simply been unsuccessful through the mediation or negotiation process and there is no other option to resolve your matter.
- Or your ex-partner has initiated the proceedings and essentially forced your hand through this “legal cage fight”.
So, how do you emotionally prepare for your Day in Family Court?
Here are my seven tips …
HOW TO EMOTIONALLY PREPARE FOR YOUR DAY IN FAMILY COURT
Understand that your “Day in Court” is likely to be at least a 12-month process
It is incredibly rare that a Family Law dispute, be it parenting or property, would resolve with only one Court hearing.
I find that many clients who come to me do not realise that this is likely to be a lengthy process. Some clients instruct me to initiate proceedings thinking that it will be over in a matter of weeks which is simply inaccurate.
Understanding what to expect from a procedural perspective and understanding the timeline of Court directions will help you to prepare for the process.
It is a good idea to think of your matter in “stages” so that you can get to the point of the next court hearing, the Family Report process, a Conciliation Conference and so on. Also know that there is ultimately an end point which is a Trial.
It may seem as though your life is completely consumed and on standstill whilst going through the process, but you will reach the point of either consent orders (agreed orders with your ex-partner) or a Trial.
ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE
Knowledge is power.
Educate yourself as much as possible around procedural issues and also the law. If you have a lawyer, ensure that they explain the process to you without the legalese.
If your matter is a property settlement, then get advice in relation to likely outcomes and property division. If you are in Court in relation to children make sure you educate yourself around what reasonable orders and arrangements are for your children.
Understand that the concerns that you have are likely to be different to your judicial officer. If you have a lawyer, they should be giving you this guidance. If you are self-represented, start with resources that the Court offers on their website.
If you cannot afford to instruct a lawyer then, at minimum, meet with a lawyer from your nearest Legal Aid office or Community Legal Centre.
The more you arm yourself with knowledge, the more in control you will be.
PICK YOUR BATTLES & WEAR YOUR “BUSINESS HAT”
There will be many battles that you will face if your matter ends up in the Family Law Court. A key element is to pick your battles.
Ensure that you understand what is actually involved in the Court proceedings and what the Court’s view on specific “battles” is. Often, the things that are important to my clients are things that the Court either doesn’t care about or doesn’t have the time or jurisdiction to deal with!
This is a really difficult and highly emotional time for you. Try to step back and really focus on what overall outcome is important for you rather than losing focus. Are you able to think of this process as a business transaction? I know it’s easier said than done. But if you can remove some of the emotion and put on your “business hat” it will help you through the process.
RALLY YOUR PROFESSIONAL TEAM TO HELP PREPARE FOR FAMILY COURT
Dealing with the breakdown of your relationship is likely one of the most traumatic times in your life. When you throw the Family Law Court into the mix, you must ensure you have the best support team around you. You need to know they have got your back, are knowledgeable and will guide you through the process.
If you are in the process of engaging a lawyer, ensure that you instruct someone who specialises in the Family Law jurisdiction, as opposed to a generalist law firm. Many firms offer low cost of free first meetings and this is a great opportunity to see if you are the right fit for each other. You must ensure that you are both comfortable and confident in their ability.
There are numerous Court support services for women which you may wish to explore.
If you were referred to a family violence officer post-separation, you may consider linking back to that service for ongoing court support. They will also be well-placed to offer you alternative support services that are best for you. There are also family Court support services for women whereby you can chose to have someone attend court with you. Sometimes a safety room can be booked if there is an AVO against your ex-partner or you have concerns for your safety.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR FAMILY COURT (CONT.)
RALLY YOUR EMOTIONAL SUPPORT TEAM (FRIENDS & FAMILY)
It is important to have not only a professional team around you but a good support network generally.
Having friends and family by your side through the process and attending appointments and Court with you can offer fantastic emotional support. They can assist as another set of listening ears and also take notes for you when perhaps you are unable to.
One word of warning though:
Do not rely on them for legal advice! While it is common for people to have their own separation and family law stories, you should not rely on these people for legal advice. It is not uncommon for me to speak with new clients who have formed unrealistic expectations about their matter because their friend went through a “similar experience”. Often that well-meaning advice is simply wrong.
Friends and family hold a very important place in your Family Court journey – to listen and provide emotional support.
“I need you to sit politely and keep a poker face”.
This is what I say to clients before we go into the Court room.
There will be things said during the proceedings that you strongly disagree with. You cannot be seen shaking your head, huffing and puffing or trying to speak to rebut what has been said. Likewise, things will be said that you strongly agree with – but it is not the time to clap or fist punch!
I have seen it all too often where parties either self-represented or with their lawyer are unable to control their emotions during a hearing. It does not go unnoticed.
Like it or not, your conduct is being observed by the judicial officer. It is not the time to be drawing attention to yourself or upsetting the Judge.
STAY OUT OF FAMILY COURT!
Negotiate. Mediate. Don’t litigate …. if possible!