Property Settlements

Six Ways To Make The Most Of Your Family Lawyer

TGB's Jane Miller offers tips to maximise your client/lawyer relationship.

TGB’s Jane Miller offers tips to maximise your client/lawyer relationship.

If you find yourself in need of legal advice at the end of a relationship it is important to receive the best legal advice you can, even if the separation is amicable.  Once you have chosen your family lawyer, then it is important to use your lawyer’s skills and experience to your advantage in the negotiations and resolution of your family law issues.

When you have chosen your family lawyer, think about the following to get the best out of that client/lawyer relationship:

1. Get legal advice early.

If a separation is about to happen or has just happened then it is worthwhile obtaining legal advice about the implications of the separation as soon as possible.  Even if the break up was amicable, it is still important to understand your legal position with respect to matters such as property settlement, parenting matters, financial support and your estate planning.  The sooner you get that advice, the better you will stand when negotiating with your ex.  Before your first appointment with your lawyer, prepare a list of questions and concerns that you would like to discuss.  Ask your lawyer questions about the best and worst case outcomes for you with respect to your issues of concern and understand the options available to resolve your matter.  If no urgent action is required, then your lawyer is likely to give you advice to enable you to negotiate directly with your former spouse or partner in the first instance.

2. Where possible, negotiate directly with your former partner.

In most cases where there are no issues of family violence or urgency and if you feel comfortable, you may be able to resolve the legal aspects of your separation by negotiating directly with your former partner.  Before commencing these negotiations you should have received legal advice about where you stand.  Sometimes an agreement cannot be reached immediately with your former partner and you may need to have several meetings with them before an agreement can be negotiated.  During this process, you can continue to revert back to your family lawyer for advice about the “state of play” of the negotiations, and once again your family lawyer will guide you through the risks and benefits of those negotiations.  For example, if your former partner puts a counterproposal to you, then you may ask your family lawyer for advice about whether you should accept the counterproposal.

Negotiating with your former partner where appropriate in this format enables you to maintain a workable relationship with them without launching into legal intervention.  This can work particularly well when negotiating parenting matters.  However, not every relationship is suitable for this format of negotiation.

3. If you reach an agreement through your negotiations with your former partner, then instruct your family lawyer to formalise the agreement.  

Your family lawyer will give you advice as to how you may formalise your agreement so that it is legal and binding and will prepare the documents necessary for you and your former partner to sign.  If the documents are prepared by the lawyer representing your former partner, then make sure you provide these to your lawyer as soon as possible so that you can receive independent advice about how they affect your rights and entitlements.  Your lawyer can suggest any amendments to the documents to ensure that you are well protected and will assist you in executing the documents in accordance with the relevant laws.

4. If you are having trouble negotiating an agreement directly with your former partner, then discuss with your family lawyer other options available for reaching an out of court settlement.  

Your lawyer can advise you on different forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, such as mediation and conciliation.  You might also instruct your lawyer to write to your former partner setting out your proposal for settlement.  You may prefer these forms of negotiation if you are not comfortable negotiating directly with your former partner.

5. If your attempts at resolving your family law issues out of court have not been successful, then discuss with your lawyer the benefits of issuing proceedings in the Family Law Courts.  

This might also be necessary if family violence or urgent issues require immediate attention.  By issuing proceedings in the Family Law Courts you are asking the court to decide issues for you such as property settlement and where the children will live.  If you do issue proceedings in court then through that process you may still resolve your dispute by reaching an agreement with your former partner.  Your family lawyer will continue to advise you of your settlement options and processes during the course of the court proceedings.

6. Carefully consider the advice you receive from your family lawyer.  

It is important to have chosen a family lawyer that you have confidence in and whose advice you can trust.  It is also important that your relationship with your family lawyer is a workable one so that you receive the advice you require in a timely and efficient manner.  During your negotiations in any proceedings it is important to listen to the advice of your family lawyer.  The family lawyer should always discuss the options available to you to resolve your matter, including the advantages and disadvantages of each option.  Ultimately it will be you that makes the decision as to what course of action you will take and the terms of settlement you are prepared to agree to.  However, it is important that you have received the right advice and understand the full implications of your decisions.  If you do not understand the advice you are receiving then ask your family lawyer to explain it in a different way or provide you with the advice in writing.

By using your family lawyer this way you should be well informed and able to achieve the best outcome possible in your matter in a reasonable timeframe.

TGB is South Australia’s largest family law firm. For assistance with your family law matter contact your nearest TGB office.