As an accountant, financial planner or lawyer, you are often the first point of contact for someone when they are separating. Being family lawyers, our firm has seen many ways people can put themselves at a disadvantage before they separate. We share them with you here to provide some context to what your client could be going through and how you can assist them in the process.
Emotions getting the better of them
When someone is in the very early stages of separation emotions can peak. This can make it difficult for a client to accept legal advice they might be given because they may not be psychologically ready to accept what is shared with them.
Additionally, it might be difficult for someone at this stage to understand the advice being given. Say, for example, someone receives written advice from their accountant, planner or lawyer, they could read it but not understand or be accepting of it due to emotional reasons. This is why creating a trusting open dialogue between you and the client, who is feeling vulnerable, is important.
Communications negatively impacting parenting matters
If a break up causes emotional hurt to someone, at times the overriding emotion may be the desire to punish the other person. Any Australian family lawyer would convey that the underlying premise is for children to have a relationship with both parents.
If you are the first contact for someone considering separation then directing them to resources such as therapists, counsellors and divorce coaches is something we can do. This assists people in working through emotional blocks so they are more able to readily accept the concept of co-parenting.
Another common issue that arises in the early stages of separation is someone being unable to communicate in a constructive way with the other party. Being able to communicate for the benefit of the children, rather than ‘sticking it’ to the other party, can be hard for people in the early stages of a difficult separation. Sometimes you might have to encourage your client to run their communication by their lawyer first to get some assistance with neutralising the language, rather than sending an angry, bitter email that inflames the issue or may detriment them later.
Early on when a couple is separating it can be common for people to not want to exacerbate their situation or cause friction, so they make informal arrangements regarding finances. However, we strongly advise our clients about the need to take advice before committing to arrangements and, if the arrangements are appropriate, formalising these arrangements. We often see amicable situations turn sour quickly and “all agreements are off”.
How a family lawyer helps to reduce disadvantages
Within our firm, we have seen examples of clients asking us for initial advice when they are not ready to receive it and then taking a course of action later that puts them in a place of disadvantage. For example, we might tell a client to not move out of the house and then when they come back to see us three months down the track, they inform us that they have gone ahead and vacated the family home – which then ends up technically or strategically disadvantaging them. Timing is also important. Our advice at one point is based upon the most up-to-date information. If we provide advice later on, when circumstances have changed even slightly, it could mean the advice is no longer accurate.
A good family lawyer is not just somebody who understands the law and can tell you what the Family Law Act provides or does not provide. They are also a strategic thinker and problem solver who will consider what is best for children and families overall and help a client to determine their goals and how they want the separation to run.
If someone is closing down bank accounts and not communicating well then it is common for this situation to become litigious. Conversely, a family lawyer may caution a client who is being overly accommodating and putting the other person in a position where what is being provided becomes the expectation to continue moving forward. As an example, someone might agree to keep paying the other party a ‘wage’ each week in the hope of a reconciliation or that the other party will be more reasonable in the negotiations. What can happen though is when the client wants to stop paying the ‘wage’ the situation escalates quickly because the other party has become accustomed to a particular lifestyle and there is no incentive for the other party to reach a property settlement if their lifestyle is going to be negatively impacted.
How you can best assist your clients
As an accountant or financial planner with a client going through a separation, you might become aware they have spoken to a lawyer for initial advice. When you are working with them you want to be asking your client if their approach is consistent with the advice they received or if they have been back to their lawyer and updated them on any changes in circumstances.
For example, a lawyer might provide pre-separation advice and suggest a certain course of action, but then when they are talking to you as their accountant or planner down the track their circumstances might suggest an alternate approach. That is where it is important for all parties to know about a significant change in circumstances so there can be updated advice provided in a timely manner.
Related articles: Accountants: The financial disclosure obligations for divorcing clients
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Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone (07) 3007 9898 or secure a time by clicking here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.