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Preparing to meet a family lawyer for the first time - Part 1

As featured in The Jewish News. In the first of a two-part article, Daniel Myers talks about what to expect during an initial appointment with a family lawyer, and why they’re not all as scary as you might think.

I’m aware from meeting with clients over the years that the idea of going to see a family lawyer for the first time can seem daunting, perhaps even confronting. This is understandable. In a perfect world, no one would choose to spend their limited resources to discuss intimate and often difficult areas of their personal life with a lawyer if they could possibly avoid it.

The anxiety associated with seeing a lawyer may be increased by the fear that as soon as you meet with one, it automatically follows that the next step is a huge and unpleasant war with your ex-partner. And that it will definitely cost a bucket-load.

Although it’s sadly true that some cases do end up in intense and highly expensive litigation, fortunately those cases remain a minority. Indeed they can often be avoided by taking sensible steps at the outset of a separation.

When I meet with a client for the first time, I understand they’re likely to feel apprehensive and uncertain about the future. If the separation is recent, their world may just have turned upside down, and they can no longer make any sense about many aspects of their lives. In those cases I try to assist by breaking down the relevant legal issues into bite size chunks, for example, property settlement, arrangements for children, financial support, child support, divorce, and so on.

However, once a client has told me a bit more about their story, I often find they’re as much concerned about the process towards resolving their matter as they are in receiving a detailed analysis of their “rights’ or “entitlements” at the end of the case. In particular, most people would prefer to keep things civil with their ex-partner, or at the very least they want to minimise the conflict. I’ve never once met a client who told me at the outset “Let’s drag this thing out for the next two years because I really want to pay you a load in legal fees”.

With this in mind, when I first meet with a client we often talk more about the best way of approaching the case rather than getting too stuck into the substantive details, particularly if the separation is relatively fresh. This means discussing things such as how they feel about the separation, the nature of their communication with the former partner, questions about their respective personalities and emotional states, and understanding, in the big picture sense, what is most important to them and what they value. My emphasis is more about trying to steer things towards the most appropriate pathway i.e. obtaining the best outcome in the least acrimonious and cost-effective way.

Sometimes however a client informs me that they’ve already reached an agreement with their former partner and they just need it formalised legally. In those meetings, it’s a lot easier to jump to the “nuts and bolts” of an agreement because the hard work in getting there has already been done between the couple.

In other cases, I’ll meet with a client for the first time when they’re already mid-way through messy court proceedings in which case the priority is coming up with an overall strategy plan to help deal with the litigation in the most effective way.

Regardless of their situation, by the end of an initial appointment, my aim is to have helped give the client a sense of context about the law and empowered them to make informed decisions about their matter going forward.

In next month’s article I will go further into what to expect during an initial appointment, including practical issues and how to prepare for the meeting.

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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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