If you have made the decision to separate from your partner, we know as family lawyers that this can be quite an emotional time for all involved. If you have not had a need to see a solicitor before, you may be unsure of what to expect coming into your first meeting with your family lawyer.
In this article, we explore what happens in your first meeting, what information we are likely to cover, and what topics of discussion are commonly considered.
What usually happens in your first meeting
The first meeting is generally an information gathering session that enables us to provide more in-depth advice. However, at times, we do need to provide some preliminary advice at the initial meeting, especially on urgent interim matters.
No two people will have the same experience at their first meeting because our clients often have a varying understanding of their finances and children. So the first meeting will provide a chance for your lawyer to navigate with you what you may not know and the ways in which you might be able to obtain the missing information. That way, you can go out and find that information and provide it to your lawyer.
At times, there will be a need to immediately address urgent matters. For example, if your ex partner has failed to return your children to you at the agreed time, or if you have been removed from the family home as a result of your ex partner obtaining an interim family violence order against you. It is important for you to tell your lawyer all of your concerns (including concerns about your safety), immediate needs, short-term goals and long-term goals, so that your lawyer can tailor their advice to best suit your circumstances.
The topics we cover in your first meeting
There are five main topic areas that we try to broadly cover off in our first meeting with our new clients. These topics are:
So before you have your first meeting, you should be thinking about these topics and expect to discuss them with your lawyer.
What you need to think about before your first meeting (property & parenting)
Many clients come to their first meeting and are not really sure about what the next steps are. This is very common and completely understandable.
To make the best use of the first meeting, it is always helpful if you have a think about what your short term issues and long term goals are before you come to your first meeting. Have a think about the interim and long term care arrangements for your children. Have a think about your current financial circumstances, whether you are in need of financial support, and short term and long term accommodation arrangements.
It is also helpful to think about some practical issues. For example, if you want to keep your family home as part of your property settlement, consider “Can I actually afford to do that? Can I refinance the home loan into my name?” If you only have one family car and the children need access to transport, think about “Can my ex and I share the car? Will I be able to borrow one from a friend or buy one?” Having thought about these practical issues will be helpful in preparation for your first meeting.
Information you should collate for your first meeting
When you come to your initial meeting, it is beneficial to have even a vague idea of your family property pool. Not many people actually know everything, so do not worry about that.
If you have not had much engagement with the family finances, it is okay for you not to know because part of our job as lawyers is to help you undertake what is called ‘financial disclosure’. That process helps us get to the bottom of what is actually in your combined asset pool. But if you do have an idea of what your assets and liabilities are of the relationship, it is a good start.
We also recommend bringing with you a summary of any key dates, such as the date you started living together, the date you got married, and the date of your separation. All of which are relevant to our advice.
In some cases, people come to us having been served with Court documents or Letters of Offer from their ex-partner’s lawyer. If you are in this situation, then you need to bring those documents to the first meeting too.
We also assist our clients with Family Violence Order matters. So, if you have been served with an Interim FVO, bring that copy of the court document in with you as well.
Having access to these documents at the first meeting will enable us to provide you with advice tailored to your situation.
The importance of seeking advice early on
It is important to understand that there will be real consequences for delaying a property settlement or entering into an informal property or maintenance arrangement. Also, there are Court mandated time limits for married and de facto relationships about when you can make an application to the Court for a property adjustment and/or spousal maintenance. So you need to speak to a lawyer to understand those possible ramifications and risks to you of delaying property settlement or entering into an informal property or maintenance arrangement.
The risk of delay also applies to parenting matters. For example, if you allow a care arrangement which you do not think is suitable for your children to remain in place for a long period of time, it may become more difficult to change those arrangements.
Basically, the longer you delay seeking advice, the longer it will take to have your parenting and financial matters sorted and you may be giving the other party time to get an advantage. We recommend getting in touch with a family lawyer early on to seek initial advice, even if you do not move forward with a separation.
Related articles: Separation and care arrangements for children
DDCS Lawyers specialise in all aspects of family law and can help guide you through the difficult process of separation. If you need assistance, contact our team on (02) 6212 7600 to book a consultation.