What’s black and looks good on a lawyer? A Rottweiler.
It can sometimes be hard to imagine anything worse than experiencing the breakdown of a family or a marriage, particularly if conflict or emotions are spiralling out of control. Amidst all of that heartache and turmoil, one of the things that can drain whatever colour is left from the faces of the poor folks stuck in the middle is the introduction of a soul-sucking, 6-minute-interval-charging lawyer. And the only thing worse than that? Two lawyers.
It’s often tempting for people in such circumstances to first seek the guidance of someone a little less bloodthirsty – like an accountant, financial planner, teacher, or pastor. And, in most instances those people will be of enormous assistance. Unfortunately however, even the most dedicated teacher or accountant will often make him or herself scarce when words like affidavit or subpoena start finding their way into the email chains.
A question I’m asked frequently, and often nervously, is “do I really need a lawyer?”. At what is often the worst period of a person’s life, do they really need someone charging them hundreds of dollars an hour for the privilege of continuing to endure? The short answer is…no.
Like any good lawyer however, my answer comes with a caveat. You absolutely do not need a lawyer, provided you are comfortable with a couple of key messages:
- You need to be able to communicate respectfully
Very few separations can be managed successfully without some formal assistance if one or more of the people involved are looking for a fight. The unfortunate reality is that in many circumstances the emotions associated with family breakdown can put a significant strain on communications, and that can be one of the more difficult challenges to overcome. If you find yourself in a situation where conflict or a power imbalance means that healthy communication is not possible, you may need to get some legal help. What is particularly disappointing however, is when well-meaning people find themselves a lawyer who him or herself is looking for a fight. In that instance, a Rottweiler isn’t such a bad idea.
- Whatever help you do get needs to be reliable and well-informed
I’ve had many accountants contact me, slightly panicked, after being blindsided by a client (who can often be an old friend, or at least a well-loved and valued associate) in the early stages of a messy separation. It can be particularly difficult for accountants or other professional advisors if both of the people involved are old clients. I’ve also been accosted by the odd teacher or pastor harbouring a beef with the family law system and needing to vent a little about how their sister or neighbour got ripped off.
Taking legal advice from people who aren’t lawyers can occasionally end badly. If the friend or colleague you trust to guide you has some experience in family law and can speak with wisdom and calmness, you may not need much time at all with a lawyer. Again however, if they are a little panicked or looking for a fight, it can often be better to get some more specialised professional help.
- You understand that some things need to be documented correctly in order to ensure that you are not exposed to legal and/or financial risk later on
It is important to remember that, for example, your property settlement is documented in a legally recognised manner. Failing to do so (even if your separation has been amicable and “documented” by a non-legal advisor) can leave you open to risk down the track.
The good news remains that you may not need to engage a lawyer and, if you do, there is not necessarily any reason why it needs to be a painful or draining experience (emotionally or financially). We work with many local professionals to ensure they are equipped to handle the occasions when life doesn’t quite go to plan for friends or clients. A professional or personal advisor who has some experience with family law will know when they’ve reached the extent of their ability to guide you, and will hopefully point you in the direction of a good family lawyer who won’t make you want to release the hounds.