If your are separating or considering separating you might want to consider these tips.
1. Don’t rush into a settlement.
While separating may be stressful, finances may be stretched and you just want the whole thing to be over, you need to consider all of your options and your future. If you are being pressured into an agreement and the other party is trying to convince you that you don’t need legal advice, ask yourself why it’s so urgent and why they don’t want you to get legal advice. Remember, once you have finalised your financial settlement or parenting arrangements it cannot be easily undone so you need to get it right the first time around. This does not mean you have to go to war with your former spouse or that you need to go to court just because you have seen a lawyer, it just means that you can move towards settlement with your eyes wide open and fully aware of your rights, obligations, options and legal entitlements.
2. Information is power.
It is also crucial that you have all of the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family. This includes obtaining specific legal advice relating to your circumstances and a good understanding of your financial position. Make sure you have copies of any important documents such as bank statements, credit card and loan statements, insurance policies, superannuation statements, share holdings and income tax returns. You will need these documents to help you work out your current financial position and to finalise your property settlement documents. Ask yourself what you would like to achieve out of the settlement, for example, do you want to try to keep the family home? Consider whether you should see your accountant or financial advisor and whether or not you might need finance in order to settle. Find out from the bank what your finance options might be and what your limit is.
3. Preparation is important.
Whether you are just separating or have already started negotiations (or reached agreement with your former spouse) we recommend that you get some independent legal advice. If you want to get the most out of your initial consultation with your lawyer there are some basics things you can do to prepare for that appointment. Try to work out your current financial position by listing all of your assets and liabilities including your house, investment property, any shares, furniture and chattels, motor vehicles, loans, savings, credit cards and both parties’ superannuation.
Try to consider what your asset position was when you first met and began your relationship. Did one of you already own property? Did one of you bring debt into the relationship? Consider how that position may have changed over the course of your relationship. During the relationship consider whether either party received any windfalls, inheritances, gifts from family or large compensation payments and how they may have been spent or applied. All of these factors will have a bearing on your likely range of outcomes or settlement.
Remember, your lawyer can only advise you about the issues and factors that they are aware of so the more detailed and thorough the information you provide then the more detailed and thorough their advice will be.
Finally, don’t be afraid to write down your questions so you don’t forget them and if possible, try to bring someone that you are comfortable with to the appointment for support and an extra set of ears.
4. Beware of the backyard lawyer.
We all know a backyard lawyer. It is usually a well meaning family member or friend who has gone through a separation themselves or (more commonly) knows someone who has. They will often weigh in with advice and opinions which are usually based on something they have heard or a friend has told them. This is not legal advice and, frankly, it can cloud your thinking and give you an unrealistic expectation of settlement and costs. There is no substitute for proper legal advice from someone who works in the area of family law who can guide you through your options and the process in a straightforward manner.
5. Don’t believe the myth that all lawyers just want to litigate and fight in Court.
This just simply isn’t true and I for one would much rather see my clients settle amicably with the minimum amount of cost involved. As a lawyer I will always try to negotiate respectfully and will use mediation if needed to settle a matter. Court is my last resort and it should be yours too. There are times though when going to Court is necessary to reach a settlement and sometimes if negotiations have stalled or reached an impasse then going to Court can push settlement forward well before a trial.