Don’t press send- Five tips before you see your family lawyer

We have regularly written about the importance of getting independent, specialised family law advice about your individual circumstances at an early stage.  There is no substitute for it.  In family law there are very few general principles that apply irrespective of your circumstances.  Having said that, what do you do if your relationship comes to an end when our office is closed or if you are only just thinking about separating?  In short it’s about keeping your feelings, actions and emotions in check until you can get the advice you need and know where you stand.

While there are very few absolutes in family law, below is my list of the top five things that I wish I could tell parties going through separation before they even pick up the phone to make that initial contact with us.

  1. Don’t press send…. yet. We get it.  In that moment you  are feeling angry, frustrated, hurt, confused, upset, sad, grief stricken or annoyed.  Whether it’s the phone call you just had, that text message that just hit your phone, that post that just got shared with you, that hash-tag added to their comment or what they yelled at you out of the car window.  Chances are you are right. They should not have done it.  They know how to press your buttons and they knew it would get to you.  As much as you’re passionate right now and poised to click send or post on that perfectly timed response.

Stop. Do. Not. Press. Send.

Once you have put your response out there you have lost control of what happens next, including where that comment may end up, who may see it and what it may be used for.  Before you press send you still have control of what you say and how you say it.  Give it a minute, an hour, a day, overnight or the weekend.  However long it takes to pause and really ask yourself the question “would I be happy for a Judge to read this and make assumptions about me and who I am based on this”.  If the answer is no then don’t send it. Remember that no response at all may be the best solution.

  1. Secure your privacy. Unless you have been lucky enough to avoid the modern world for the last 20 years you probably have dozens of email accounts, online profiles, portals and Apps which each have their own password and login.  When you and your spouse are together everyone had everyone else’s login details and passwords and no one thought twice.  When you and your spouse separate it’s a good idea to set up a new email account so that you can be sure that no one is intercepting your private communications.  At a minimum, change your passwords for your private accounts.  Also remember things like Cloud based accounts that may be available on multiple devices, like the iPad that the kids have, that old laptop or another device that is laying around which may be accessed by the other person and where your private information is backed up to.
  1. Sentimental items. Even the most hardened minimalist will still likely have kept one or two keep sakes, mementos, treasures or lucky charms from over the years that reminds them of something special.   Whether it is that trophy you won with the A-side footy club for the Under 18’s, the christening gown that has been in your family for three generations, the snow dome from that Christmas you spent in New York, Great grandmas’ wedding dress or even that jar of Vegemite 2.0 that you hope will one day be the collectable of the future.  Chances are that it has great sentimental value to you but is of limited monetary value to anyone else.  While personal property can be the subject of a property settlement dispute,  if a person has retained an item that is of minimal monetary value it can be difficult to justify the legal costs to secure its return when it is suddenly said that the item you desperately want back is now “lost”, “stolen” or “gone”.   To be clear, emptying the house of all home contents for “safe keeping” is not the solution.  However, securing those couple of low value sentimental items before they disappear can save a lot of time and stress.  Remember the best argument is the one you don’t have to have.
  1. The family pet. Lawyers are very good at assisting when it comes to helping you work out the arrangements which are in the best interests of your children.  Most of us however are not as skilled at working out the view’s expressed by the family pet as to where they would like to live and their attachment to each of their parents.   Whether you loved the family dog or cat or could not stand them, separation is not the time (nor is there ever a right time) to take out your frustration on your former spouse by threatening to harm or dispose of a beloved family pet or animal.  The issue of what is going to happen with the family pet is best negotiated and agreed to early if at all possible and before anything happens to the animal.   When someone does something in the heat of the moment it can and does come into family law matters in different ways and rarely in a good sense.   However, if a pet has been put-down, given away or sold by a callous partner, while there may be good arguments why the conduct was wrong and hurtful to you or the kids, the best legal argument is not going to return that loving pet you held in such affection.
  1. The informal property settlement – It does not work.  You and your spouse have separated.  You have negotiated directly. You have reached an agreement for all of your property.  You have written it all down. You even had it put in a Stat Dec and witnessed by a friend that is a JP.  You have both carried it out.  You don’t need a Lawyer?   The answer is without a doubt Yes, you need to see a Lawyer now!  There are so many things that “you don’t know, you don’t know” until it’s too late.  The risks are, and it happens all too often, that the amicable property settlement you reached together does not work as you hoped.  Your informal property settlement is not binding in any way and your rights are at risk.  No matter how amicable things are now there is no substitute for getting independent legal advice and taking steps to legally finalise a property settlement in the right way with the assistance of a solicitor.