The first step in engaging a family lawyer is to arrange an initial consultation.
To help you get the most out of your initial consultation, and get the most tailored advice for your circumstances, I have prepared a list of five tips:
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
For your family lawyer to provide you with advice, they will need detailed instructions from you. Spending time before your appointment collating relevant information will enable the solicitor to give you more specific advice. You should consider:
- As best as you can, prepare a schedule of the assets, liabilities and superannuation that you and your spouse or former partner own.
- Work out what you each held at the start of your relationship;
- Think about if there were any monetary windfalls (e.g. inheritances or compensation payments) and how those funds were used.
It is not necessary for you to bring statements or other documents to verify your estimates to your initial consultation (although your family lawyer will likely request copies of those documents as your matter progresses).
You should also ensure that if there are any court orders (including any divorce order), financial agreements, or parenting plans, that you have copies of these documents with you. Your family lawyer may need to review these documents in the consultation to provide you with their advice.
If you are seeking advice regarding a protection order, you should also bring a copy of any application.
2. Consider asking a person to attend the conference with you for support
If you have a trusted friend or family member who has been assisting you through your separation, you may wish to ask them to attend the appointment with you and take brief notes on your behalf.
3. Arrange care for your children
If you have children, care should be arranged for them while you are at your appointment. This is both to ensure that they are sheltered from adult issues, but also so you can focus on your discussions with your family lawyer and their advice.
If you are unable to arrange care, ask your family lawyer’s office about what arrangements can be made (such as a larger conference room if your child is in a pram, or a separate meeting room for older children to sit in unsupervised during the meeting).
4. Obtain financial advice from a financial planner or a mortgage broker
If you are seeking advice about a property settlement, you may wish to speak to a broker or financial planner prior to your consultation with your family lawyer. If you are seeking to retain certain property as part of your property settlement, it is helpful to get an estimate of your refinance ability, or advice about which assets might be more sensible for you to retain in a property settlement.
5. Come with an open mind
As hard as it may be, it is important to come to the initial appointment with an open mind. What happened in a friend’s or family member’s case may not necessarily apply in yours and there are plenty of keyboard warriors offering their opinions about the legal system online. Be willing to listen to the advice from your family lawyer – they want the best possible outcome for you as their client.