Australia: Five ways to save money when resolving your family law dispute

Last Updated: 15 August 2019
Article by Kristie James

There are no two ways about it; Family Law is an expensive and time consuming process that unfortunately, we sometimes find ourselves in.

But, there are a few ways you could leave pockets a little heavier and your legal bill a little smaller if you follow our top five ways to save money in resolving your Family Law Dispute.

Principles are an expensive thing to have

We all have principles and we should, for the most part, abide by them. However, if I had a dollar for each time I the phrase: "It's not about the money, it's a matter or principle", I wouldn't be practising law and would be on a permanent holiday in Greece.

Whilst some things are worth fighting for, more often than not they aren't.

I will give you a real life example:

I once acted for a gentleman who had spent several years negotiating a multi-million dollar property settlement. One day, let's call it a Wednesday, the unthinkable happened and he and his ex spouse reached an agreement.

Well, that is, they agreed on everything except for who should keep their Western DVD Collection. The resolution of their entire financial relationship hinged on this, for months.

As my client's fees escalated I asked him whether that money might be better spent on buying a new collection; he told me it was a matter of principle.

A long time later, my client got the DVD's and after the ink had dried on the sealed Orders my client discovered that the entire Western Collection had been replaced by romantic comedies. He had never thought to check what was inside the DVD case.

All told, the Western DVD's cost my client thousands of dollars. You see my point?

Principles are good to have but so is your own money.

"I want to take them for everything they have got"...Forget it.

Litigation only exists because one or both parties refuse to compromise.

However, in eight (8) years of practising law, I can count on one hand the amount of times a party has succeeded on every single point they have argued before the Court and achieved the result they wanted.

The Family Court is a court of discretion and will attempt to find a compromise.

That is why if you have ever met with me you would have heard me say something like:

"The best outcome in Family Law is one where both parties' are unhappy and that is because that usually means a real compromise has been made by both parties".

That statement is true and I would trademark it but I am confident I inherited it from a mentor a long time ago.

Family Law tries to shy away from litigation and instead offers a range of alternative dispute resolution options: collaborative law, mediation and arbitration.

Built into the Family Law Act is the requirement that, in parenting matters, (subject to some exceptions) you are required to attend upon a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner in an attempt to negotiate, narrow or even resolve your dispute before you initiate proceedings.

Once you are in the Court jurisdiction, there are various stages such as a Conciliation Conference in property matters, designed to encourage parties' to resolve their dispute without further litigation.

The profession, the Court and the Law are all encouraging you to compromise. They do so to save you money, to promote a swift conclusion to the breakdown of relationships, to encourage healthy post-separation relationships for the benefit of children and on a broader scale our society.

Compromise might mean you take a little less or give a little more and maybe that isn't your ideal outcome but it does save you money.

Be smart with your smart phone

In an age where we can use our smart phone to video call a friend in Amsterdam whilst ordering a Big Mac and at the same time monitor our heart rate it is a whole lot easier to communicate with your Lawyer.

If you want to email your lawyer about your ex after a few bottles of wine, you should do so. However, as most firms still charge on a time-costing basis you need to be mindful that for each email you send, you are likely to be charged 6 minutes of time.

My suggestion is, if you are going to email, compose all of your queries, questions or concerns into one email.

Alternatively, just telephone your Lawyer to talk or to arrange an appointment. Emails don't save you money. They cost about the same and at least with a verbal interaction you are more likely to communicate about the right issue = value for money.

Get your documents together

There is an obligation under the Family Law Rules that each party will provide to the other full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances. Your lawyer will be able to tell you what types of documents you will need to disclose at your initial appointment. They will also tell you the obligation to provide these documents is on-going.

The purpose of these documents is to identify and quantify the value of the asset pool to be adjusted between you and your ex.

Having your Lawyer chase you for these documents or worse, have to issue subpoena to obtain them is a guaranteed way to escalate your legal costs and delay the resolution of your matter.

You pay for the advice, heed it

If I had a dollar for ever time I heard the expression: "but my friends at the pub said", not only would I be on that beach in Greece but I would also be sipping cocktails with George Clooney (and wouldn't that be something).

As above, Family Law is a discretionary area of law and each matter is determined on its own unique set of circumstances.

What happened to your friend or your friends' friend is not necessarily a reflection on what will occur in your Family Law matter.

Your Lawyer is most likely a specialist in Family Law, they understand how the Family Law Act is applied and they also understand the practical versus theoretical application of that Law.

You are paying for their advice, why not take it?

Drown out the white noise, listen to the advice of your lawyer and follow it. It will save you money. Money that you can use to shout your friend a beer at the pub.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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