Being involved in a family law matter is stressful.
If you’ve recently separated from your spouse, then you probably already know this.
These matters are usually about finances, like how you’re going to divide your property and assets, or they are about your children and how you will parent moving forward.
Difficult decisions need to be made and this has to be done on top of the emotional distress of the breakdown of a relationship. And the emotional stress of the end of a relationship or marriage, as well as the difficult decisions that need to be made in a family law matter, can lead to people making silly mistakes that can cost them in the long run.
As family lawyers in Australia, we’ve seen a lot of instances where a simple mistake has had significant consequences. To help, we’ve put together some information about the mistakes we see happen during various stages of family law matters, so you can avoid them.
The family law mistakes we commonly see
Relying on informal agreements
These kinds of agreements can be made in a variety of ways including privately between the former couple, through mediation, or they can be decided by the court. When these agreements are made outside of a court, they can either be informal or they can become legally binding agreements through an application for a consent order through the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
When a couple separates amicably and are able to come to an agreement easily, it’s quite common to leave the agreement as an informal one. And this certainly works for some people.
However, when an agreement is informal and not legally binding, you are unprotected and reliant on the other person to hold up their end of the arrangement. If they don’t hold up their end of the agreement, there isn’t really much that you can do.
Whereas if you were to formalise the agreement and make it legally binding, if the agreement is not adhered to by either party, there may be consequences.
Some people may be hesitant to ask their ex-spouse to make the agreement legally binding in fear of damaging their relationship – especially if they are on good terms. However, not only does the legally binding agreement offer protection to both parties, but the process to make a private agreement legally binding is often a lot easier than they may realise and doesn’t require either party to attend court. You can learn more about consent orders and the application process here.
A legally binding agreement can save a lot of hassle for each party in the long run and can be made about parenting and property settlement matters.
Not providing full or accurate information
When you’re involved in any legal matter, including a family law matter, it’s important to provide truthful and accurate information – this is known as the duty of disclosure.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (the Rules) provides the guidelines on disclosure in family law matters. Duty of disclosure means that all parties involved in a family law dispute must provide all information that is relevant to the dispute to the other parties involved.
Both parenting and financial matters also have the requirement of full and frank disclosure. For financial matters there must be total disclosure of a party’s direct and indirect financial circumstances. While in a parenting matter, there must be full disclosure of all information that is relevant to the parenting case at all stages of the case – the information required is usually case specific.
Some people may try to hide the truth of their situation, such as their financial situation to either avoid paying their ex-spouse more than they think they should have to or to try to get more money from their ex-spouse.
Whatever the reason for trying to hide the truth, the reality is that it’s not worth it. If you fail to disclose information, then it may affect the information you can use as evidence in your matter. It could also lead to your matter being dismissed, costs ordered against you, fines, and even imprisonment.
Letting emotions take over
The breakdown of any relationship is upsetting and emotionally quite tumultuous.
During this time, you’ll be making a lot of decisions, usually about quite big things in your life, like your living arrangements, how you will parent your children, what happens to your pets, and financial arrangements. And as you’ll be experiencing a lot of change, it’s understandable that you’re going to be feeling angry, sad, frustrated and exhausted a little more than usual.
While feeling all of these feelings is completely normal, when it comes to making the important decisions we mentioned above, it’s best to do so when you’re not feeling these things.
Even when an ex-partner has done something to hurt and/or upset you, when making these life-changing decisions, you need to take your time and take a step back. Understanding the bigger picture overall will help you to make a decision that is going to be right for you, rather than making one out of frustration or spite.
If you’re making decisions for your children, then these need to be made with their best interests in mind, not just thinking about what you want. If you’re making decisions about other matters, you need to ensure you’re making a decision that is fair for you.
Failing to seek professional help
Separation and divorce can be highly personal matters and it’s easy to try to take on the burden of the circumstances yourself. Often people don’t want to seek help from others as they feel that it is their personal issue.
However, while this is understandable, you don’t need to go through these things alone. A lot of people turn to family and friends as they feel comfortable with them, but there are also professional services available to help guide you through these situations, often making the process a lot easier.
When we say professional help, we’re referring to counselling and/or therapy as well as legal services. Therapy isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it can be a great tool or outlet to help you get your thoughts and feelings out with a professional who understands what you are going through.
A lot of people also tend to avoid legal services because they think they need to be involved in a dispute, however, when you’re involved in a separation or divorce, a family lawyer can help you understand your obligations and responsibilities, as well as ensuring any agreements you make are sound and suitable. Engaging a family lawyer can also make the entire process a lot easier to manage too.
Exposing children to the family law matter
Unfortunately, when a couple who has children end their relationship, all too often, the children are caught in the crossfire.
Some parents expose their children to fights and disagreements with their other parent, while some parents choose to use their children as pawns and negotiation chips.
When it comes to family law and parenting matters, it’s important to be mindful of what your children are witnessing. You don’t necessarily want to leave kids in the dark about what is going on, and it can be good to get their opinion and thoughts (depending on their age). However, you should not be using them as a sounding board or venting your frustrations about their other parent to them.
Involving friends and family too much
Friends and family are often the first people we turn to when we’re going through something, so why would a separation or divorce be any different?
While a family member or friend can be a good shoulder to cry on, and provide emotional support, unfortunately some of the advice they provide may be harmful to your situation. This could be due to legal inaccuracies or because of their own personal biases. It may also be harmful to you as every separation is different and while someone’s advice is often well meaning – it’s not always relevant to you.
Another reason to avoid involving your friends and family too much is that they are likely to have a relationship with your former spouse and they may be in one another’s lives for the indefinite future. As much as it may be frustrating, it’s best to avoid influencing their relationship. They need to make decisions about their friendships and relationships themselves.
Posting details about family law matters on social media
Social media is a great communication tool, but it can also be harmful, particularly if you’re involved in any legal matters. Photos, videos, and general content that is uploaded to a social media platform can be admissible as evidence in legal matters.
Social media posts could be used as evidence of a person’s lifestyle and character or to prove that they have contradicted themselves in legal documents. Even if you’re not involved in any legal matter at all – it’s best to think carefully before posting any pictures or details on the internet.
If you or someone you know is involved in a family law matter, it’s important to be aware that under section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), you must not post any details about a person involved in family law proceedings that could be used to identify them. This includes posting details (in any format – photos, videos, status updates) about them such as their name, pseudonyms, where they work or have worked, or anything to do with any of their family members. This can result in imprisonment. Learn more about the impact of social media on family law matters here.
Choosing the wrong family lawyer
If you do decide to engage the services of a family lawyer to help you through your divorce, then it’s vital that you find the right one. The right lawyer is one who has experience handling matters similar to yours, has a good reputation, is understanding, but most importantly, is one that you feel comfortable with.
Family law matters are sensitive, and you will be required to provide your family lawyer with a lot of personal information, and you need to be completely honest with them. If you’re not comfortable with your lawyer this could result in your holding back information and not achieving the result that you’re after.
Most family lawyers and law firms offer free initial consultations – and this is a great way for you to be able to not only discuss your matter with your potential lawyer and receive practical advice but also figure out if they feel like a good fit for you. As legal matters can be very overwhelming, it can be easy to rush the process of finding a lawyer, but as family lawyers, we firmly believe that finding the right lawyer for you is crucial in achieving the best possible outcome for you. We have some tips about what to look for when finding a lawyer here.
We’re here to help you
At Unified Lawyers we understand how overwhelming and stressful family law matters can be and it’s our job to make it a lot easier to manage for you. Whether you’re going through a particularly nasty divorce or you’re simply looking for advice, our family law firm is here to help you so you can make informed decisions. Our experienced team works with people all over Australia to resolve their family law disputes and we have offices based in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Call us today on 1300 667 461 or book your free first consultation using the button below.