What to expect from your first appointment with a family lawyer
At Karen Haga & Associates, we charge a fixed fee for your first appointment with a family lawyer.
We do not promise to resolve all your questions in that one meeting, but we do aim to give you clarity about your options and likely outcomes. Separation and divorce is a challenging time for anyone. We want to take as much uncertainty out of it as we can.
Preparing for your appointment
We ask you (and every client) to do some homework before you come in.
We ask you to prepare a list of all the assets and liabilities you and your partner have.
For example, that includes
- What your house is worth (if you haven’t thought about it, perhaps take a look online)
- Your current mortgage balance
- The balance of any savings accounts
- The value of your superannuation
- The value of motor vehicles
- Any additional properties, stocks or shares
We don’t need exact figures, but a rough estimate. This helps us to work out what the total pool of assets is.
Either we’ll give you a checklist to work through, or we’ll go over this list with you by phone.
What happens in the appointment itself?
Commonly we begin by asking you for a brief history of the relationship.
This includes the financial history. Who brought what assets in at the start. Whether and when any large sums of money have come in – for example, inheritances.
If parenting is an issue as well, we ask who's been responsible for what in terms of parenting duties. We also check the current arrangements in relation to your children, plus what you think the future arrangements are likely to be.
For property, we aim to work out a net pool. If we can identify the pool sufficiently, then we look at what percentage division we think would be appropriate – and work out the sum. So if you provide enough information, you can leave that first appointment with rough dollar figures. What you might expect to receive, or what you can expect to pay your spouse if you want to buy them out of a shared property.
The appointment can be a bit of a reality test
Sometimes clients come in saying, ‘I want to keep the house and I want to buy them out. But when you do the sums, it’s clear there’s little chance of that happening. We may advise that they check things out with a mortgage broker or other external expert.
Determining next steps
Once we've done that assessment, we’ll discuss what your next steps should be.
Ideally, we have enough information that you can speak to your ex-partner and try to achieve a settlement.
If you didn’t have enough information for us to do the figures, we’ll give you homework. That could be market appraisals on the family home, or online review of what vehicles are worth, or so on.
You should be armed with this information before you talk to your ex-partner. You need to know what things are worth to have a balanced discussion about reaching an agreement.
We also give you a clear outline of the expected process going forward. If a matter has to go to court, we’ll tell you expected time frames, whether that's for lodging a settlement or whether it's contested proceedings.
What if I’m not sure whether I want to separate?
Very few people book an appointment with a family lawyer at this early stage. If you are thinking of separation, it’s an excellent idea to get some advice about what your rights and entitlements might be.
It is not a family lawyer’s role to help you decide whether to separate. You need to be sure of that yourself. If you’re not already seeing a counsellor, we will usually refer you to one.
We often also recommend couples counselling. In our experience, people who separate without trying to save their marriage tend to regret that down the track. Even if the counselling doesn’t save the marriage, it often means less pain later.
What about very emotional clients?
Overflowing emotion is very difficult to deal with.
But remember, you are going to be making very important decisions about your future and you need to be in the best state of mind possible to make those decisions.
If you are really emotional, we may suggest that you see a counsellor. We can recommend counsellors and local organisations to assist.
Or we may suggest that you go to your GP and get some assistance, potentially medication. We act in your best interests, and it is in your best interests to be in the right frame of mind before you push the process too hard.
Don’t have an appointment with a family lawyer on the day you separate
In our experience, seeing someone the day they separate, or the morning after, is usually a complete waste of time. You will most likely be too distressed to take anything in. Also, you won’t have the information we need to start assessing financial issues.
Book the appointment for a couple of days later.
Bring a support person
We welcome you bringing a support person, and we may actually suggest it to you. Someone who is less involved can listen, make notes and ask questions you may not think of. They will also hear things which you may miss if you are emotional at points in the interview.
How long is the appointment?
First appointments are generally 45 minutes to an hour, but we don't necessarily stop exactly on the hour. Our aim is to ensure you are fully informed and can walk away knowing what your entitlements are.
Our key goal for your first appointment is to give you clarity and reassurance.
In many cases we deal with, our client wasn’t expecting the separation. They can be overwhelmed and unprepared. Often there have been angry exchanges, possibly even threats about what the outcomes are likely to be. But often there’s not much fact behind those words.
For example, one recent client had three children, age two to early primary school. They were living with her and seeing their father every second weekend. His solicitor apparently advised that she would get no more than 55% of the asset pool – however, after consulting with us she negotiated 69%. She needed the reassurance of our interview to help her negotiate strongly.
Most people haven’t been through separation and divorce before, so they don’t know what happens or all the factors to consider. We do, and we aim to give them clarity about what’s most likely to happen for them, in their circumstances.
Clarity – and reassurance – is what the first appointment with a family lawyer at Karen Haga & Associates is all about.