14 March 2017

How to choose the right family law solicitor for you

The trauma of separation or divorce

Separation and divorce has been widely recognised as one of the most traumatic life events people experience.  Somehow, through the emotional upset and often grief people experience at this time, they are required to deal with decisions such as:

  • where their children will live;
  • how much time they will get to spend with their children;
  • how they will financially support their children;
  • whether they seek to, and can afford to, retain the family business or the family home; and
  • how much money they will need to survive after separation and into the future.

These life-changing decisions are so very important to the lives of people who separate and their families.

An experienced, approachable and empathetic family law solicitor can assist separating parties to make the right decisions for them, avoid unnecessary conflict with former partners, build strong co-parenting relationships into the future, and avoid nasty family court battles and high legal costs.

Three essential attributes of the right family law solicitor for you:

  1. Your family law solicitor listens to you, and can identify all of the legal issues you are facing, and guide you on each issue

The first skill your solicitor must possess is the ability to listen – to really listen to you, and understand your particular concerns and priorities.

No two separating couples are the same; nor do they face the exact same circumstances, family dynamics or financial pressures.  As such, no two separating couples have the exact same legal issues.

This is why you need an experienced and skilled family solicitor who can guide you on every family law issue you face.

  1. Your family law solicitor advises you on options to resolve your matter that are in your best interests, avoid unnecessary conflict, and save time, and high legal costs

A good family law solicitor will look at your case not just issue-by-issue, but holistically, and advise you on a range of options to resolve your matter and help you move on with your life whilst doing the least damage to your relationship with your former partner.

A skilled and experienced family law solicitor should have a suggestion and possible solution for every family law issue you raise.  The first suggestion, unless absolutely necessary, should never be – go to court.  The court process is often traumatic, costly, takes a long time and unnecessarily adds to the conflict between separated parties.

A family law solicitor who has you and your family’s best interests at heart will advise you on the suitability of options such as informal settlement discussions between you and your former partner, mediation, the collaborative law process, arbitration and negotiation via solicitors or a combination of them.

These pathways to resolution are effective in the vast majority of family law cases and can involve solicitors as much or as little as each party requires, thereby saving legal costs.

  1. Your family law solicitor suggests things that you can do yourself to save legal costs

A family law solicitor who has your best interests at heart will always suggest things you can do to prepare, advance or settle your case yourself and save legal costs.  Such suggestions, where appropriate, might include:

  • preparing a chronology – to save the costs of taking a long statement from you as to your relevant contributions, future factors and care arrangements for the children;
  • preparing a draft property pool/asset and liabilities table;
  • gathering all relevant financial documentation – including superannuation statements from your superannuation fund, relevant bank statements, guarantee documents and other financial information from your banks and financial institutions, and trust deeds, tax returns and financial statements from your accountant (where necessary); and
  • where appropriate, conducting informal settlement discussions with your former partner – to try to narrow or resolve some of the legal issues, after your solicitor has provided you with the legal advice you require.

The role of a family law solicitor

What many separating parties don’t realise is that your family law solicitor can do as little or as much as you require.  You may not need a family law solicitor to represent you on all legal issues and a good solicitor should be upfront about which legal issues you would benefit most from having legal representation for.  You may just need some advice and guidance at the initial stages of separation, and then at the final stages of your matter, for your solicitor to make ‘legal’, any settlement agreements reached.  This is a good option for many separating couples.

If you need expert legal advice on any family law issues and are after a solicitor who will really listen, and come up with effective, realistic and optimal suggestions and advice tailored to your particular situation, please contact Julie Hodge, Senior Associate in our Miller Harris family law team.

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