Your initial family law appointment – the build-up
It is 9.00 am on a Monday morning. You arrive in your lawyer’s reception area for the first time; sharply dressed but mildly anxious about the appointment. It is your first serious relationship breakdown and your friends and family have all put in their two bob’s worth about your entitlements. However, you know that they are too emotionally invested to be remotely impartial.
Upon being taken to a conference room you fumble over which chair to use. A coffee order is taken and the family lawyer listens as you recite, as best you can, a pre-prepared explanation of your concerns. The lawyer listens attentively while you try to remember all the information you think may assist. At some stage, as though to reassure the lawyer that you are being reasonable, you say words to the effect of: ‘I don’t want to be difficult. I only want what’s fair’.
This script is incredibly common in family law world. Occasionally, a client will admit that one of their goals is simply to cause the other person as much emotional and financial pain as possible. However, most clients want their matter resolved as soon as possible and without adopting a scorched earth policy.
While that is a more insightful approach, particularly when children are involved, it is often accompanied by pre‑conceived ideas about what ‘fair’ means in a legal sense. For example, in financial matters, James Joyce’s adage that ‘What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own’ is sometimes not too far off the mark in terms of initial client expectations.
Okay, what should I do?
If you are going through a separation, or you think one is impending, we recommend you obtain family law advice at an early stage. Do not rely on your preliminary Google search results or advice from the next-door neighbour about your legal entitlements. Equally, before receiving family law advice, try to avoid visualising what you would be ‘happy with’, as this may be well outside what you are likely to achieve.
False expectations typically lead to disappointment. It can also be difficult to shift clients’ unrealistic goals if they convince themselves of an outcome before they’ve even spoken with a lawyer.
Therefore, before you leave for your family law consultation on Monday morning (or open Microsoft Teams in our post‑COVID world), avoid the temptation to pre-empt what the advice will be. If you think the experience will be overwhelming and you risk forgetting what you’re told; bring a support person to take notes and be a second set of ears.
If you wish to book an appointment to discuss any family law issues, please do not hesitate to contact me or one of the other family lawyers in our workgroup.