Your family breakup will have been an unexpected twist in your life plan. No-one finds a partner and has kids, knowing that separation is on the cards. So, when it happens, we have absolutely no idea what we are doing. And the immediate reaction is to find a lawyer in the hope that they will sort everything out.
But stop! It is very possible that you will not need a lawyer for your separation, especially if you are still amicable with your ex-partner. Getting separated is primarily an administrative and financial process, rather than a legal one. And it has been known for lawyers to aggravate and lengthen the process, as well as create unnecessary costs.
Stop! Just because you’re separating, doesn’t mean you need a lawyer
Before I continue I will point out that I am not anti-lawyer. I work with many incredible lawyers who I have the upmost respect for. Lawyers have a valid place in the separation process in some cases. But if you can avoid communicating with the man you once loved and had kids with through a total stranger, would that not be a better solution?
Here is what you need to know if you are considering using a lawyer for your separation.
FOCUS ON YOUR OWN SITUATION
As mentioned, you didn’t plan this, hence you have no idea how to proceed, especially whilst you are dealing with your own emotions and your children. First response: Turn to a friend who has ‘been through it’ and is already texting you her lawyer’s number. Yet, although your friend has also separated, her situation could be entirely different, in which case, it needs to be handled entirely differently. Be wary of well-meaning advice from friends, family and online social spaces. Take on board what people say and then recalibrate and think about what will work for you. In many cases, a lawyer is not the next step.
SO, WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
Before you start using dramatic phrases such as ‘you’ll be hearing from my lawyer’ and ‘I’ll see you in court’, the best result is that you never make it that far. Here are your options:
- You and your ex have agreed on financial and parenting arrangements. Great! Get an expert to run their eyes over it and organise consent orders to be reviewed and stamped by the Family Court. This doesn’t have to be a lawyer. Instead, use an accountant who specialises in financial separation and will with work with both you and your ex to get the formalities in place, we recommend Divide – Simple Financial Separation.
- You and your ex are reasonably amicable but are struggling to agree on some issues, meaning you can’t move forward. If this is you, book some mediation. You can use a free government service such as Relationships Australia or a private mediator. A mediator will help you to resolve these issues, once resolved, you can move to the point above.
- If mediation does not work for you and your ex, then you may have to consider using lawyers, and the possibility of a visit to the Family Court.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIRING A LAWYER
The thought of trying to work things through with your ex-partner may seem as appealing as jumping off a cliff, however it is 100% the best way forward. Whether you need some mediation sessions, or not, resolving issues without a lawyer is way more favourable, here is why.
YOU WILL NEED TO HIRE (AND PAY) FOR A LAWYER EACH
What many people don’t realise is that when you use a lawyer for your separation, you need to hire one each. This means there will be two lawyer bills to pay from your joint asset pool and in some cases two (possibly hefty) retainers. Lawyers can also charge per action i.e. phone call, email, letter etc and these rates can be staggering, especially if you are already concerned about your financial future. Having said this, many lawyers now offer fixed costs and payment plans.
A LAWYER WILL FIGHT YOUR CORNER
This is what lawyers do … they represent you and play the game to try and get what you want And this is perfect, right? Wrong. Have you considered that it will create further friction in an already delicate relationship between you and your ex. Scary lawyer letters written on your behalf and referring to you formally as Mrs (Surname) will create even more distance between you and the man you used to love and need to co-parent with. Is this really the way forward you were looking for? And don’t forget your lawyer cannot guarantee an outcome but they will charge you to try.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT CO-PARENTING?
It is understandable that you are all-consumed in the moment when you are separating. It is hard to see past the end of the day, let alone think about the long-term future. If you are planning to co-parent with your ex, then you should be building on that relationship now. If your separation is a bloody battle of lawyer correspondence and costs that you both resent, or worse still, ends up in the Family Court, it will be hard to circle back and work together as co-parents. The people who suffer the most from this are your children. What happens now will affect them for years to come.
COURT IS NOT ALWAYS THE ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYERS
Many ex couples try everything but are still unable to reach a resolution, even with lawyers, and the only option left is Family Court. If your case were to end-up in court, the costs can rocket sky-high. You may be eligible for Legal Aid, but if you are not, be prepared for the possibility of losing everything in your asset pool, plus more. Also, remember that a Family Court will listen to both sides of an argument and decide based on what they think is in the best interests of your child. It will not necessarily go the way you want, and it is ultimately a total stranger deciding the future for you and your children.
NOT ALL LAWYERS ARE EQUAL
If you do need a lawyer, make sure you take the time to find the right lawyer for you. Arrange a ‘no cost’ chat with them to see if they are the right fit and make sure you feel listened to and understood. Consider whether their values align with yours and make sure they don’t overwhelm you with ‘law talk’. Always ask about fees which should be presented to you clearly. Oh, and steer away from a lawyer who promises you outcomes … they are lawyers, not miracle workers. Checkout our Separation Support page for lawyers in your area.