As I write this article we are in the midst of significant changes to the way we as Australians operate day to day. I have helped hundreds of people through their separation and divorce but right now we have an added layer of complexity with the current health crisis. So before I proceed with this article, it is good for you to know that while our team are working remotely, we are continuing to help our new and existing clients on the phone and can meet face to face online, very easily. Do not worry if you see yourself as not ‘tech-savvy’ because we have a way around that. We know that for many, being able to connect and see each others’ faces online will be helpful, particularly given the current climate.
So, regardless of whether your appointment will be on the phone or online, your initial appointment with a family lawyer often comes at an emotional time in your life. It is completely normal to feel anxious about your first discussion or meeting and to have some fear about the unknown. Given what you discuss can be deeply personal, it is important you feel you are in a safe space to voice your concerns, get informed and know that what you discuss will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.
As a family lawyer who has helped hundreds of people through this process, I have learned that there are a few key things you can do to prepare in advance of your meeting, in order to get the most out of your initial appointment.
Think about your goals
Before your appointment with us, take some time to think about your goals. A few ideas to get you started are to ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s important to me and my children?
- What are my short or long term goals?
- What are my immediate concerns?
- What am I most worried about?
These are questions I ask people either in their initial call or at the start of their first meeting. This allows us to work together to prioritise what is most important for you to share and focus on. It is not a bad idea to make a list of your questions beforehand because when you are in the meeting and taking in a lot of information, it is easy to forget to ask something.
Create a list of questions
Of course, as your lawyer there will be certain things that we are going to cover off as part of our discussion, but it is also a good idea, as you think of different issues before your appointment, to jot down any questions that come to mind. Sometimes there might be something important you want to share or something that you have been worrying about. If this is the case, jot your thoughts down and bring the list to your meeting.
Even better, you could email the list to your lawyer before the appointment. We can then go through it and make sure we have ticked off everything that is forefront for you before you leave.
Compile key information early on
It is important to be as prepared as you can for the meeting, particularly if you are getting advice or guidance about financial issues. Before the appointment try and gather any relevant financial history and put together, to the best of your knowledge, information about your assets, liabilities and superannuation that you and your partner own.
Sometimes that is not possible, where you don’t have access to that information. However, if you can be prepared with the information that you do have, this will not only help to save you time and money but also allows us to give you more detailed advice in your first appointment. This is because the fundamental first part of giving guidance around property settlement outcomes is to understand what there is to be divided and then work through how how you got there and how it might be treated.
Here is a basic list of what is ideal to have for your first appointment with us.
- What you think your house is worth roughly and what you owe on it.
- If you have investment properties, think about their value and what you owe on those properties.
- Check your bank statements to identify the accounts you have and how much is in them.
- If you have other liabilities such as credit cards, personal loans or other business loans, check what you owe.
- Check your superannuation balances if you have access to statements (or do your best to bring along a ballpark figure).
- Your income and if you know it, your partner’s income.
What is most important here is to seek advice early. Don’t delay your first appointment just because you do not have every piece of the puzzle on hand. In the meeting we can talk to you about what the best approach to getting that information might be if you do not have it.
Consider taking notes or bringing a support person along
During your first appointment there can be a lot of information to take in. Sometimes it is helpful to take notes along the way or even to consider bringing a trusted friend or family member along. During this COVID-19 crisis, if you’d like someone else to be invited into the phone or online call, please advise early so that that can be arranged. Somebody you would feel comfortable with and could be a second set of ears to help you to retain the information that is discussed.
If you choose to bring someone along, think carefully about how comfortable you are with that person and whether you know they are likely to be a good support for you. It is important you don’t feel inhibited to be open with your lawyer because that person is with you. We want our clients to feel as comfortable as possible during an initial appointment, so bringing a close friend or parent is not uncommon.
As a family lawyer, we appreciate a separation is deeply personal. The more relevant information you are able to share with us the better we are positioned to give you the best advice.There is never any judgement from us, so if you have any concerns or worries, you are better off letting us know that information so we can take that into account. When we are able to understand your individual goals and concerns we are able to make the most of the initial appointment rather than taking a more general approach.
Despite other elements of our lives being impacted by COVID19, it is still important for us to be able to continue to assist you to progress your family law matter, and we have the contingencies in place to support you and our team to do so. The Phillips Family Law team have processes and procedures in place to allow our team to work remotely to enable us to continue to provide you with a high level of client service.
If you found this article interesting, leave a comment or share it with your team, colleagues and clients. 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 +61730079898 or secure a time by clicking here.