DIY family law – the pros and cons.

by Peter Magee on December 27, 2011

Peter Magee
A lot of friends ask me whether it is worth paying for a lawyer to assist them in sorting out their family law matter.  The answer depends on the circumstances.

You may be concerned about incurring unnecessary legal costs in your Family Law matter, however sometimes, spending the money on a good lawyer at the start of your matter may save you a lot of time, frustration, and expense in the long run.

FREE INFORMATION

 

Your local library is a good source of information, and has legal text books, manuals, and magazines as well as information brochures and other useful information available. Legal Aid offices and your local Community Legal Centre employ lawyers to provide free legal advice, however ,these services usually have restrictions on the types of clients they can accept. More information can be found at: www.nla.aust.net.au (National Legal Aid website) and www.naclc.org.au (National Association of Community Legal Centres).

The internet is a great source of information, however you should be wary of forum sites where people recount their own experiences and instead look to more official websites providing family law information such as the Court’s website at www.familylawcourts.gov.au or the Government’s Family Relationships website at www.familyrelationships.gov.au. These services can give you information but cannot provide you with legal advice.

Additionally, specialist Family Law firms such as Armstrong Legal have prepared articles and information about many family law issues, see for example our website at www.armstronglegal.com.au.

MONEY MATTERS – PROPERTY SETTLEMENT

When it comes to dividing up all the assets and liabilities of a relationship, most people think that they can do it cheaply by coming to an agreement themselves.  There are a number of legal technicalities which can have a big impact on whether a Court would recognise your agreement as a final property division. In these circumstances it is best to consult a lawyer not just to see whether the agreement reached is fair in the circumstances or likely to be within the range a Court would award, but also to find out the best way to document your agreement.

A lawyer may suggest that an agreement be documented in a formal legal way, and whilst this may cost you some money upfront, it will also ensure that your agreement will remain binding.  There may be other benefits to consulting a lawyer, for example your lawyer can draft settlement documents to allow you to apply for a stamp duty exemption on the transfer of property between separating partners.

Whilst there might be some expense in properly documenting a property settlement agreement, if you don’t, you could be facing a far greater expense in the future if one person does not abide by the agreement or you need to start Court proceedings about property settlement because the agreement was not property drafted.

CHILDREN’S MATTERS

After separation, parents can reach an out of Court agreement about the parenting arrangements for their children.  If a Court was to settle a parenting dispute, the Court will look at what is in the best interests of the child, and reasonably practicable in the circumstances, and will take into account a large range of matters when it is making its decision.  In most cases, parties are required to attempt mediation to try to resolve the parenting arrangements before going to Court.  In some circumstances, mediation will not be appropriate.  This includes circumstances where there has been violence, children are at risk, or there is a situation of urgency.  You and your partner can decide whether you want lawyers involved at mediation, and whether you want your agreement to be formally documented in Court Orders, either with the help of a solicitor, or on your own.

If you are considering what care arrangement is in the best interests of your child, it is a good idea to speak to a qualified practitioner experienced in the area of family law and discuss your options before you enter into any agreement.

 

DIVORCE

Divorce is a relatively simply administrative process, and the Family Law Courts have issued a “Do It Yourself Divorce Kit” which is available online and in Court Registries. The Court will require evidence that you have been legally married and have lived separately and apart for 12 months before making the application. If there are any complications about these issues, or one party is in unknown location, or overseas, you may wish to seek legal assistance in relation to your Divorce case.

The advantage of having a lawyer deal with the issues of a relationship breakdown, are not just that we have specialist expertise and skills, it is also that we bring an unemotional and professional approach to your Family Law matter. Dealing with a relationship breakdown is hard, and dealing with the legal steps required to finalise a divorce, parenting arrangement, or property division can be quite stressful.

Each person’s circumstance are quite different, and the legal costs your friend or neighbour may have paid in their family law matter may be very different from the legal costs in your situation.  To discuss your options, and obtain an estimate of the legal fees you will be required to pay if you want to engage our services, please give us a call on (02) 9261 4555 and ask to speak to one of our experienced Family Law Practitioners.

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