It may seem strange for a lawyer to give advice that would help a meeting go more swiftly, but that could explain why I don’t drive a Mercedes! If you’re preparing for your first meeting with your Family Lawyer, then be prepared to answer the 8 questions below, and get the most out of your meeting (and in a shorter amount of time!)
Although everyone’s circumstances are different, in my experience, there are things that I always need to know before I can give clear Family Law advice. I need to know the full picture, even if your separation or divorce is amicable.
In order to make the best use of your time with your lawyer it is useful to know the types of questions that you are likely to be asked in order that you can prepare your answers to these.
I have found that when people don’t know the answer to some of these questions, I have been unable to give detailed advice and often people need to come back for another appointment once they have all the information. If you are living outside of Perth, and your lawyer is in Perth, travelling can also be an added cost.
If your appointment relates to property settlement issues these are some of the more commonly asked questions I ask:
1. When you started living together in a de-facto relationship and/or your date of marriage, your date of separation and your date of divorce.
2. Names and dates of birth of any children.
3. What assets each of you owned at the beginning of your relationship (either the date you started living together or if you didn’t live together the date of marriage) and any debts that each of you had at that time.
4. If any substantial inheritances or gifts were received either prior to, during or after your relationship, how much was received and what happened to it.
5. A list of what you and your ex-partner now own, including superannuation and the value of those items and a list of all debts in your name or in your ex-partner’s name and the amounts owing.
6. What each of you earns (usually gross taxable income).
7. Details of any proposals made to you by your ex-partner.
8. Whether you have received any letters from your ex-partner’s lawyers and if you have brought the letters with you.
I really like to be able to check documents because sometimes people are not sure of what the real legal picture is. For example:
- If there is a family trust try and locate the Trust Deed and bring it with you as you will be asked who the appointer and the trustee is;
- If there are companies find out the name(s) of the company and if possible who the shareholders and directors are.
- If there is a self-managed super fund try and locate and bring with you the Trust Deed as you will be asked who the trustees and members are.
Some other things I suggest you do to maximise your appointment with your lawyer are:
1) Ask two or three local real estate agents to provide you with a written market appraisal for any properties and bring them with you.
2) Contact your bank and obtain an up-to-date balance of all accounts that you have access to or print out current statements from your Internet banking.
3) Contact your superannuation fund and ask them to send you a current statement.
4) If there are personal loans or loans for motor vehicles contact the finance company or bank and ask them to provide you with a payout.
5) If you do not have copies of your Tax Returns, contact your accountant or contact the Australian Tax Office and ask them to send you copies of your last three returns.
If you have clear answers to these questions and you have collected as many documents as possible, your first appointment can be very effective.
Often I find that a lot of your appointment time can be taken up by extracting the information from people and the better organised and prepared you are, the more accurate the advice can be and the shorter your appointment.
I appreciate that sometimes you just don’t have access to that information, so if you don’t, it is really important to ask your lawyer what steps they can take to obtain answers to our 8 commonly asked questions.
All the best with your separation or divorce. I hope it goes as smoothly as possible for you.