To begin any journey, one must start by taking the first step. When considering a separation, that first step is often the hardest – we suggest you should always obtain legal advice before taking any steps at all, and that involves making an appointment to see a solicitor. That first phone call can be daunting, but it is a crucial step as it demonstrates your commitment to becoming informed and helping you on your path to making a decision about what is right for you.
We have prepared 10 steps to walk you through the process of identifying the right solicitor, preparing yourself to make the call, and getting ready to have a meeting. The first appointment is your opportunity to build a relationship with the person you will be trusting to represent you. It is also of great importance to have an advisor that will give you real and practical advice on that first occasion, not just “meet and greet” niceties.
Here are 10 steps 10 steps you need to know when considering a separation
IDENTIFY THE LEGAL REPRESENTATION THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU:
There are many choices out there when it comes to solicitors:
- There will be solicitors who work in many areas who can give you a broader level of advice and representation (very much like a GP you might see if you have a recurring headache).
- There will be solicitors who may focus mostly in one area, like family law, while still having a number of other interests (like a more specialised sports injuries GP if you’ve hurt your knee whilst training).
- There are solicitors who are entirely dedicated to family law and focus all their career and training in that field (like taking your child to a paediatric cardiologist for a heart murmur).
DO SOME RESEARCH:
Reputable law firms will have a website with information about their solicitors and achievements. Using a search engine, you might look up “Family Law Solicitor Cronulla” (or your specific location). Have a look at the website of the solicitors and see if it contains information about the firm, their solicitors, and other useful articles they may have on their website. You should be able to find the type of solicitor you are seeking by reading what areas of law they practice and whether they specialise in one area.
MAKE THE TIME:
This type of phone call will need some time, will need your concentration, and ideally no interruptions. It may be an emotional phone call to make, so make sure you allow yourself enough time to sit, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that this phone call is for your future, and to keep strong. The person who answers the phone will understand if you need a moment to compose yourself, it is normal to feel a little emotional during the call.
BE PREPARED TO GIVE SOME BASIC INFORMATION:
- It is very helpful for the person on the other end of the phone if you have some details available, which will help in guiding you to the right solicitor to speak to. Some situations are more complex than others, and it will be important that the solicitor with the right skills to tackle your situation is identified early on in the relationship. Here are the types of information that will be helpful, which cover the two broad areas of family law advice:
- If you have assets that need to be divided: what is the date of separation, whether you were married or de facto, is there a family home, are there investment properties, is there a business (and if so, is there a company structure involved), is there a family trust, what type of superannuation fund do you both have?
If there are children that need care arrangements and financial support: what are the ages of the children, what were the arrangements for their care before separation, what are the arrangements for their care now, are there any risk factors such as family violence, abuse or neglect?
MAKE THAT PHONE CALL:
Generally, solicitors will carry out a “Conflict Check” when you call up – this is because (by law) solicitors cannot act for both the husband and wife in a relationship breakdown – if the husband has already called them up and obtained advice, then they cannot advise the wife. It may be that the husband has seen them for an entirely different matter (and maybe many years ago), but still that will create a potential conflict so the solicitor cannot make an appointment for the wife. This is standard procedure, and should be the first step of every phone call when you contact a solicitor for family law advice. Be prepared to give them your full name, and the full name of your partner – include maiden name or any alias if applicable. If there is a conflict, don’t be alarmed – don’t despair – mostly importantly, don’t ask that solicitor for recommendations!
MAKE THE APPOINTMENT:
Some people expect all their problems can be solved in a 10 minute phone call with a solicitor. That is almost as impossible as expecting a GP to diagnose your ailments over the telephone. Your family situation did not evolve overnight, and it cannot be divided up and sorted overnight. You deserve to have a proper appointment where information can be exchanged, documents can be viewed and consideration to your situation can properly be given. Ask questions about how the first consultation will be conducted – if it is just a meet and greet, or whether there will be meaningful advice discussed right away. The more specialised your solicitor, the more likely it is that they will give you practical solutions at that first meeting, and also charge for an initial appointment – similarly to the GP compared to a paediatric cardiologist. This is an investment you will make into your education about family law and work out a strategy for your particular situation.
GET READY FOR THE APPOINTMENT:
Write up a list of questions, and what you really want to achieve out of the appointment – for example, if you want to know how you can start seeing your children again. Bring a notepad to make notes for yourself during the meeting. Start gathering up information that you have access to, and to which you are entitled. For property matters you should gather up:
- Details of the assets you and your partner brought to the relationship, estimate values of those assets (including superannuation) and estimate balance of loan / mortgage amounts owing;
- Details of any external money each of you received during the relationship, such as an inheritance, lotto winnings, gifts from parents, or compensation payment;
- Details of your current assets you and your partner own, estimate value of those assets (including superannuation) and estimate balance of loan / mortgage amounts owing.
It doesn’t have to be overly detailed for the first appointment, at this stage a broad picture of your situation is a good start to be able to identify immediate hot spots and some overall advice on strategy based on the type of assets your family holds.
ATTEND THE APPOINTMENT:
Make sure you arrive early to give yourself enough time to find their office. They may ask you to complete some forms, so ensure you have enough time to fill them out. It’s better to be a little early and have time to settle yourself before the appointment starts. You should be able to bring a friend for support, and sometimes that is helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed – your friend may absorb more information than you can at this time, and will be able to remind you what was discussed (friends make great note takers too!) If possible, leave the children at home – it is best not to expose them to a situation where they can hear about the conflict between their parents. Children will often find it difficult to keep secrets as well, and may tell your partner about the advice given.
ENGAGE WITH WHOM YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE:
Like with any service profession, there are many different solicitors out there, all with different personalities and abilities to build relationships with their clients. You will be putting your trust in a solicitor to advise you and to represent you – they will stand and speak on your behalf to your partner, and in court if necessary. It is half the battle to find someone whom you trust to do that on your behalf. For some people, the connection can be made immediately and you can trust your instincts if that happens. For others, if you don’t feel quite right about the representation, then you should see two or three different solicitors before you make a final decision about who you feel comfortable with the most.
FIND OUT WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS:
Once you have decided the right solicitor for you, find out what they need in order to represent you, and find out what they plan to do as a next step. You should ask them to show you any letters they plan to send out to your partner, so that you can see what will be sent and you may approve it first. Follow their guidance, but be prepared to make your own decisions – a solicitor is there to advise and to navigate you through the options, but they will need your approval before they take any steps on your behalf. And remember – your solicitor is on your team – you are in this together.
Separation and contacting a Family Lawyer for the first time can be a scary step to take. Its something most of us never really want to do. To talk to us about an initial consultation contact us on 02 9523 3007 or CLICK HERE to submit your details. We’ve also created a complimentary online separation pathway questionnaire to help you find out where you stand by answering a few simple questions. CLICK HERE to get started obligation free.