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Family Law: six critical things to have before seeking a settlement (Part 1)

As featured in The Jewish News on 23 March 2018. In the first of a two-part series, Daniel Myers shares his top six guidelines to achieving a smooth family law settlement. 

Most of the earlier article I've written in the Jewish News over the last few years have focused less on the technical aspects of family law, and more on matters usch as the nature of the parties' relationship, the level of trust and communication between them, their personalities and their broader goals and fears that arise from a separation.

In my experience these intangible factors often influence a client's experience of the process (including time, expense and levels of stress) more than the legal issues per se.

The Right Representative

When it comes to choosing a family lawyer, it is therefore important that the layer understands people and what makes them tick, on top of having a clear grasp of the underlying law.

As a family lawyer myself, I've become even more aware of this in the last year after becoming a qualified mediator and, more recently, begun studying a Graduate Diploma of Psycology. This has increased my understanding of the science behind people's thoughts, feelings and behaviour especially during a separation.

In practice, a lawyer who has this awreness can make a big different, becuase the natuer of a case is so often influenced more by the personalities involved than the legal complexities.

Handling Tricky Situations

Some cases might involve, say, millions of dollars in complex businesses, overseas assets, investment properties and the financial involvement of in-laws, all ripe with potential for heightened emotion and stress for clients. However if there's goodwill between parties, the lawyer can give balanced legal advice to assist clients to captialise on this, rather than - as the lawyer stereotype suggests - wade in with a sledgehammer and start talking about when we go to court.

Even where complex issues exist, these cases often reach a settlement quickly, at relatively little expense, while preserving a mutual respect between the parties. This is particularly welcome in cases where they will continue to co-parent together for many years aghead.

There are also cases that should, in theory, be straightforward and find quick resolution, for example, dividing equity in a home after a short relationship or working out hte number of nights a child will spend with each parent.

However these matters are dangerous when there is little trust between the parties or, sadly, when the other party has appointed a litigious lawyer who lacks nuance or a sincere understanding of the deeper needs of their client. If the dispute is not handled with care, the expense can quickly exceed a more "complex" legal case, take months, if not years, longer than it has to, and destroy any form of working relationship between the parties. This outcome not only affects the separated couple but often their children in varous negative outcomes.

A Smooth Settlement

With that background in mind, I now share the Part 1 of the gildelines I call "Six Critical Things to Have Before Seeking a Settlement".

1. Be armed with legal information about what is a fair, appropriate or realistic outcome, and what the strengths and weaknesses of the case are. This is the primary role of a lawyer, both in providing this information to a client, and helping to place a client in the strongest position possible in a negotiation.

2. Have an understanding of your own interests and your ex-partner's interests. "Interests" refers to the respective needs, concerns, fears and desires that motivate parties.

3. Have an emotional resiliance, for example, to be able to engage in the process without stress levels going through the roof. The person who is often most emotionally disadvantaged is the one who didnt want the relationship to end. In some cases their experience can be as bad, if not worse, than the grief process associated with a bereavement. One reason for this is that the grief tends to be less "linear" i.e. there's a swirl of emotions such as hurt, anger, bewilderment, confusion and residual love. To assist clients I often refer them to counsellors and therapists who specialise in this field.

Please check out Part 2 of Daniel's guildelines and for more information, or for a complimentary one hour consulation regarding your family law concerns, contact Daniel Myers on 03 8673 5503 or or by email on dmyers@rbflinders.com.au.

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About the author

Daniel Myers
Principal Solicitor/Accredited Mediator

Daniel heads up the firm’s family law practice. Having grown up in Manchester, Daniel has been a proud Melbournian since 2007. He’s since practiced exclusively in all aspects of family law matters, including both simple and complex property and parenting disputes. Daniel’s experience also includes working for five years as a volunteer at the Fitzroy Legal Service family law clinic.

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