When people separate from their de facto partner or spouse, decisions they make about their next steps are rarely made lightly. However, as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know” and without advice and insights into the process from people who see where it does go wrong, it is easy to find yourself in a disadvantaged position. It can make a challenging process even more expensive, time consuming and stressful.
Below we share three common ways in which we see people put themselves at a disadvantage, and what to consider to avoid finding yourself in that position.
1. When Communications about Children Deteriorate
Given that you are negotiating how you will share time with your children and all the logistics that go with it, it is not uncommon for separated parents to find themselves in conflict. Even if you are amicable, emotions can peak and communications can become strained.
We know that some people have a desire to ‘stick it’ to their ex, or be inflexible when it comes to negotiating how time with children will be shared. However, importantly in Australia, the overarching premise in family law relating to the care of any children from a relationship, is to ensure the best interests of the children are met. Central to this is that they have a relationship with both of their parents.
Where there is hurt, having to accept that shared care of your children, can be particularly hard for some people. We often point those clients to therapists, counsellors and even divorce coaches where appropriate to match their needs. This applies to people who are inflexible or inciting conflict as well as those who find themselves on the receiving end of these emotions and behaviours.
Given you will need to be able to communicate into the future as co-parents, it is wise to seek out advice, resources and support to help you as you navigate the terms of your parenting plan or agreement.
As you may know, inflammatory or ongoing, toxic communications can not only harm the other parent, it can also harm your children. What we know helps minimise the risk of triggering conflict, is running certain communications past your family lawyer before sending them.
Where there is hurt, frustration or anger present in communications, we help neutralise the language so it is clear and constructive. While most people believe they can do this themselves, this second set of (legal) eyes can help avoid triggering an inflammatory reaction. Running communications by your family lawyer first, also helps you avoid agreeing to decisions that are not beneficial for you or your children in the longer term.
It can be very difficult to manage communications where there is emotional hurt, however it is an incredibly important element that can change the course of how your separation and all of the associated processes unfold. If you wish to minimise the risk of escalating matters, mounting costs and blown out time lines, it is this advice and support from your family lawyer and other support avenues that can help you avoid being in a disadvantaged position.
2. When the Division of Assets & Finances Isn’t Formalised
It is not uncommon for separating couples to determine between them how they will financially separate. That is, how liabilities will be paid, and how assets will be shared. We understand that there is a belief that if you can work it out between you, then you’ll save the money of having to involve lawyers or accountants in the process. However, informal financial agreements often come back to bite people later on.
If you and ex haven’t sought individual legal advice and had your agreement formalised with the Court, then it is possible that it can be revisited. While there are time limits for people to revisit the terms of their financial agreement, the key issue is that once you have agreed to how you will divide your assets and liabilities, you want that to be the end of it.
We see many people having to go through the negotiations a second time. While that in itself is problematic, there is also the issue that the second process will take into account any additional wealth or assets that they may have since accumulated. As you can imagine, having to go through the process a second time is costly and is a significant interruption to people’s lives, as they have to revisit what they thought was firmly behind them. It also often creates strained relationships where previously it may have been very amicable.
Knowing how to separate and not put yourself at a disadvantage starts with seeking independent legal advice. What you and your former partner or spouse have agreed to, should be done in consultation with a family lawyer and then formalised.
Seeking family law advice early is vital, especially if you want to determine the arrangements between you. Your lawyer may advise that what you have agreed to might not be suitable. Then you have to go back to renegotiate which is so much harder to do once you’ve already agreed to something. This is also where conflict arises as it can be perceived that you’ve gone back on your word.
3. When Emotions Take Hold
Emotions come with the separation and divorce processes, however when a family lawyer provides you advice, be aware that you may not be ready to hear it or process it, let alone act on it.
It is common for emotions to peak at certain points in the process. In these moments, acknowledge your emotions and give yourself space to listen and process what you are being advised to do.
As an example, we might recommend a client to not move out of the house. Then, when they come back to us a few months later, they advise that they have moved out of the family home, which in some circumstances, technically or strategically disadvantage them.
If someone is overly accommodating and puts the other person in a position that is more advantageous, in some circumstances that can set an expectation of what is to come. This is not uncommon where one person is hopeful that the relationship may be able to be salvaged.
There are many scenarios where people will put themselves at a disadvantage. While you may wish to ensure your relationship is amicable, especially where you have children, there are some areas that you must consider more carefully as it is often not until later down that track that people realise they should have taken the advice of their family lawyer.
If you are unsure of why your family lawyer is advising you in some way that you are unsure of, ask questions. Listen and reflect to ensure you are making the best decisions for you in the long term. That being said, timing is also important. Our advice at one point is based upon the most up-to-date information. If we provide advice that is acted on later on, when circumstances have changed even slightly, it could mean that advice is no longer accurate.
We know sometimes people come to us for advice but they are not yet ready to receive it. This is what often puts them at a disadvantage. Even with insights from family or friends who have been down this road before, each scenario is different and one person’s well meaning advice may prove unhelpful in your family law matter. Because most people have never been through the family law process before, it is impossible to foresee what might ‘throw a spanner in the works’ later on.
It is important to know that ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat. While we help clients determine and refine their goals and how they want the separation to run, it is the client that then makes the decision and provides instructions for the family lawyer to act on.
Knowing how to separate and make important decisions that don’t put you at a disadvantage is best achieved with specialist family law advice. A good family lawyer is more than a professional who understands family law. An experienced family lawyer, is also a strategic thinker and problem solver who will consider what is best for your children and your family overall. This is especially the case when your lawyer works solely in family law.
It is the collective wisdom of the years of family law matters and cases that we bring to our advice to clients. It is this depth of knowledge and experience that helps people like you avoid putting yourself at a disadvantage. Not just in the short term, but also well into the future.
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 filling in our confidential form here.
Disclaimer: The content in this page 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.