Going through a relationship breakdown is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. Aside from the emotional turmoil that inevitably accompanies a relationship breakdown, you will find that EVERYONE is a family law expert- your friends, the internet and your family often provide [well-meaning] incorrect advice.
Here are some very specific things to avoid doing:
1. Do not try to hide assets
In this modern age, virtually everything leaves a paper trail. Sometimes people think that it would be a good idea to “sell” their 1974 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe to a friend for less than the market value, and “buy” it back after the property settlement.
The thing is, the Family Court has some of the widest and far-reaching powers in Australia. It has the power to set aside transactions if that transaction is not bona fide, or it will otherwise have the effect of frustrating the other party’s application for a property settlement. Not only can the Court undo the transaction, but it will paint that Husband or Wife in a less than favourable light by the time your matter gets to a Trial. It’s just not worth it.
2. Do not get your children involved
Parenting proceedings are muddy, because so much of the evidence in a matter (especially the early stages) is “he-said, she-said”. The Court has no way to test this evidence, which often means that arrangements that are unsatisfactory to one or both parents are in place until the matter can settle or go to a trial (which can be 12-18 months). Unfortunately, some people think the best way to “prove” to the Court that their children do not want to see their other parent is to either record the child saying as much or to have them write a letter to the other parent. The younger the child, the worse this is. Parents who encourage their children to do this are often seen in a very negative light, as it appears as though that parent is actively alienating the child or children from the other parent.
If you are concerned that your children really do not want to spend time with the other parent or are otherwise unhappy with the arrangements, please speak to your lawyer ASAP about other ways to make this known to the Court.
3. Do not forge documents
You would think this is fairly obvious, but I have included this on the list because it has actually happened in a case I worked on a few years ago. The figures just did not balance, and the dates on various documents did not coincide with the transfer of funds in and out of bank accounts. It turned out that one of the material documents disclosed by the other party had been forged by them to reflect something that was not the truth. Needless to say, it did not end well for the fraudulent party.
4. Do not telecast your dispute on social media
Once you put something online, it is there forever. It takes less than a second for a friend-of-a-friend to take a screen capture, and chances are that your rant about what an awful person your ex is will make it before the Court. Before you post, ask yourself this- how would you feel if the Judge or Magistrate managing your case read this?
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff
It’s so tempting in parenting proceedings to list everything the other parent has ever done wrong. “He never went to parent help”, “She never went to my family events”, “His parents were never nice to me”. Here’s the thing- these issues are probably pretty significant reasons for why you separated from them in the first place. You have to remember when you are completing your affidavits that the Family Court sees the worst of the worst when it comes to children at risk. If your qualm with the other parent is more to do with their parenting style, chances are the Court will simply say “well, that doesn’t put the child at risk, you should both go complete a parenting course together and try harder to be consistent”. You do not want the important issues to get lost amongst the litany of accusations about things that do not matter or are not relevant. If you’re not sure whether it’s relevant or not- speak to your lawyer about it. It’s our job to make sure that your case is well thought-out, and effective.
6. Do not break the law
Don’t use drugs, don’t open anyone else’s mail, don’t lie in an affidavit/commit perjury, don’t access someone else’s property without consent.