In this podcast, Accredited Family Law Specialist, Yvonne Cox discusses how to best prepare for your first family law appointment.
So, you’ve made the decision to separate from your partner or you are wondering how things will work if you do separate. Now what? Making an appointment to speak to a family lawyer is an excellent first step.
Most initial appointments will go for somewhere between 1 and 1 ½ hours.
To ensure you get maximum benefit from your initial appointment, preparation is the key. At your first appointment you will no doubt want some general information about how the family law system works, but you will most importantly want advice about it will apply in YOUR case. To achieve this goal, your family lawyer will need to know the specific details of your case.
Before your appointment, you will be asked to fill out a form with some basic information about you and your matter such as contact details, date you and your partner started living together, date of separation (if applicable) and details of any children of the relationship.
If your family law issue involves parenting matters, before your initial appointment, give some thought about:
- What care arrangements you want for your child or children;
- Why those care arrangements would be in the best interests of the children. are there any relevant concerns that need to be addressed such as family violence, drug and/or alcohol abuse or other safety concerns? Are there practical barriers that need to be addressed such as geographical distance or the re-establishment of a relationship where there has been a breakdown in the relationship between a child and a parent?
- What concerns or objections might the other parent have with the arrangement you are proposing. By identifying the concerns or objections that the other parent may have, you and your solicitor will be in a better position to address these concerns in your parenting proposal. For example, if both parents live far away from each other and it is not practical to have frequent face to face time between the children and the other parent, then other forms of communication in between visits such as video calls might be suggested.
Jot these points down so you can discuss them with your solicitor at your initial appointment.
Be ready to provide some background information particularly if some time has passed between the date of separation and the date of your initial appointment:
- What have the care arrangements been since separation?
- Has there been mediation?
- Is there a Parenting Plan in place or are there court orders?
- Is there a current Apprehended Violence Order or Intervention Order?
Have these documents available at your initial appointment if possible.
In all family law matters, whether the issue relates to parenting or property matters or both, writing a chronology can help your solicitor get up to speed quickly about significant events during the relationship and leading up to your initial appointment.
In property matters, in order for your solicitor to give you proper advice in relation to what a just and equitable family law property settlement might look like in your case, your solicitor will need to know:
- Whether there are any entities such as companies, trusts, partnerships and self-managed superannuation funds;
- What the assets are and how those assets are held. is the property held in one person’s name or jointly held as joint tenants or tenants in common; whose name are the cars registered in etc. A car registration renewal form will usually show who the registered owner is if you are unsure. You might be able to find out about who the registered owner of a property is by looking at a rates notice or contract of sale. Otherwise, your solicitor can always do a title search for you.
- The value of the assets. Estimates are fine but it may assist if you have obtained 1 or 2 market appraisals from real estate agents (which are free) for each property. In the case of cars, market appraisals or valuations are available on line through websites such as redbook.com.au or you could get a market appraisal from your local car dealer;
- Superannuation balances (a recent statement is usually sufficient);
- What the debts are including mortgage balances, personal loans, credit card debts etc;
- Whether there were any major financial contributions made on behalf of either party such as:
- Assets held at the start of a relationship;
- Compensation payments;
- Redundancies; and
- Large financial gifts (or loans) from family members.
- How money from inheritances, compensation payments etc was spent ie. was the money applied towards the purchase of a house or to reduce debt? Any evidence you can provide of significant financial contributions and how the money was applied will be useful.
- Relevant factors that impact on how each party’s future needs might be assessed such as income (evidenced through payslips, tax returns and/or bank statements). If one person’s income earning capacity is limited, other evidence such as medical reports may be helpful.
In family law matters, each party has an obligation to provide full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances. This includes information about:
- Any property owned;
- Financial resources such as a compensation claim that is yet to be finalised or an undistributed estate;
- Any interest in a trust, company or other entity;
- The disposal or acquisition of any asset in the 12 months before separation or since separation.
The documents typically exchanged in compliance with each party’s obligation to make full and frank disclosure are:
- Tax returns for the last 3 years (both individual tax returns and returns for all entities in which the party has an interest);
- Bank statements for the last 12 months;
- A recent superannuation statement;
- Recent payslips; and
- Market appraisals of assets held.
Given that these documents will need to be exchanged anyway, the earlier you can start gathering these documents, the better.
Lastly, before your initial appointment make a list of questions you want to ask your solicitor. It will probably be the case that most of the questions you have will be answered during the course of your appointment but having a list of questions ready will reduce the chance of you asking yourself sometime after the appointment “oh, I wish I had asked about …” or “I forgot to ask about…”.
In summary, being properly prepared for your initial appointment will ensure that the advice you receive will be tailored to your specific circumstances, will likely save you costs in the long run and will give you a better chance of a quicker resolution of your matter.