Are you thinking of getting a divorce or separating?
Finding a good family lawyer can be the best investment in your financial future you will ever make.
While trusting a stranger with your emotional and financial future is a big step for many people, there are ways to make the search easier.
According to Jones Mitchell Lawyers partner, Dan Bottrell, narrowing the search down to a law firm that specialises in family law is the first step.
“The guidance of a skilful family lawyer can be invaluable in resolving family law disputes,” said Bottrell.
“Family law is a very complex area of law which involves specialist skills along with a thorough understanding of the Family Law Act and the latest changes to legislation.
“You might also want to select a lawyer who has training and experience in using alternative dispute resolution techniques to resolve family law disputes, as there are many different approaches that a family lawyer can take to resolve your issues other than always going to court.
“A family lawyer who has a number of possible approaches to your case will be able to see more opportunities for outcomes and resolution, and that can add value to you.”
Below are some tips for choosing a family lawyer:
Where to look
Clients often choose a family lawyer who has been referred to them by a friend or trusted friend, much the same way as you might choose a family doctor or counsellor. Word of mouth is good way to start the process. Check with relevant industry associations in your state. For instance the Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland has a ‘find a member’ service that helps you find lawyers by location, and who are qualified and committed to the highest industry standards in Queensland.
When to make the call
When children and property are involved in a separation or divorce, many people need a family lawyer to help prepare the documents which formalise parenting and property outcomes so as to make them clear, certain in their terms, and enforceable. Most family lawyers offer an initial consultation which is available at any stage of your relationship to help you distill your concerns into options. The advice given to you in that meeting should cover all areas of family law that apply to you so that you leave it knowing what will be relevant as well as what resolution processes are available, and what outcomes you can expect.
A test drive
Clients also often choose a family lawyer who they can relate to and trust. Your search should focus on your lawyer being both a ‘match’ for you, but also having the skill and experience to manage your case, and the adaptability to be dynamic in resolving it. More than most other areas of law, there is a ‘relationship’ between clients and their family lawyer, given the particular issues which arise in family law. Remembering this is a very emotive time, you will need to feel sure that you can communicate openly with your family law specialist. You must feel comfortable revealing the private information that you may very well not want to disclose to anyone else. Often it comes down to personality. ‘Gut feel’ is important here – you may feel like you have a good match after speaking with only one lawyer. If you do not feel that, you may need to consult with several lawyers.
What you’ll pay
Family law fees usually relate to the experience and expertise of the family lawyer. Depending on location, the most experienced family lawyers will charge fees ranging from $300 to $600 per hour (plus GST). Because each case is unique, the likely costs in a particular case will also vary. Ensure that the issue of legal costs is discussed openly and clearly at the initial consultation, but beware the ‘free initial consultation’ as these meetings are generally set up to get you through the door, and in some cases you receive only general advice, which is not tailored to your particular circumstances. The old adage “there’s no such thing as free advice” rings true, and to get the best advice out of an initial consultation you can expect to pay the hourly rate of the professional you consult. Don’t be put off by fees if the end justifies the means – instead focus on ensuring that you are having your particular questions answered, and are getting good and helpful advice for the fees you outlay.