Whether it is true or not, many people hear the words "divorce" and "family law" and conjure up images of long drawn-out court room battles, huge legal bills and bitter parties.
This perception does not, thankfully, have to be the reality for the many people whose marriages and/or intimate relationships break down. Often, even when people have been married or together for long periods of time, and where children and property are involved, there is hope and opportunity for parties to resolve their family and de facto matters in a co-operative, expeditious and productive manner.
In the event of a marriage separation or the breakdown of a significant intimate relationship, early legal advice is essential and can prevent delays and costly decisions with respect to parenting, property, spousal maintenance and other relevant issues.
It is essential that you consult lawyers who value negotiation and respect your right to have the opportunity to resolve your matters personally, without necessarily resorting to litigation.
Further the Family Law Act 1975 makes it mandatory for parties to engage in pre-action procedures for both their parenting and property matters before seeking the assistance of the Family or Federal Magistrates Court.
Parents are encouraged to attend upon the services of an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner to try and resolve their parenting issues in an amicable and co-operative manner. Of course there will be instances, where dispute resolution and mediation is not possible and these circumstances include matters that involve allegations of family violence and risk of abuse, including child abuse and urgent matters such as child abduction.
Prior to attending the mediation think about your children’s needs and what parenting arrangements would best suit their ages, their schooling activities and commitments, their living location and their relationship with their friends and other members of their family. If the children are of an age where they can express an opinion consider this opinion.
Similarly in property matters, parties wanting to deal with such matters are required to explore mediation and alternate means of resolving their maintenance and property issues. The purpose of such mediation is to control the costs for the parties and to narrow the issues, such that if the matter does progress to Court, the issues can be addressed and dealt with promptly. It is extremely important that for the mediation to be successful that each party be aware that they have an obligation to the other party to fully disclose their financial position prior to attending the mediation. There are very serious consequences to non-disclosure, including contempt of court.
It is helpful, for example, that the parties have agreed valuation/appraisals of any properties, business or shares prior to the mediation. For example, contacting a real estate agent to obtain an appraisal on a property of the marriage or the relationship is a quick and free option for a party to consider prior to mediation. Preparing an agreed table of assets and liabilities is also very useful for the success of your mediation.
The key element to a successful mediation is preparation and knowledge prior to the conference and reasonable expectation of the result. If you choose to attend alone, it is prudent to consult a lawyer prior to attending mediation, so that you have some indication of your rights and protecting your property and financial interests.
The above advice is intended to be general in nature and the writer strongly advises that you seek legal advice for your specific family law or de facto matters.
M.A Dip Ed LLB (UNSW)
Principal Family Lawyer - Cominos Lawyers
This article contains only general information, correct at the date of publication. For advice regarding your own personal circumstances, always seek individual advice from a qualified professional. Read the full Singlemum.com.au Disclaimer here
Pamela Cominos is the Principal Family Lawyer at Cominos Lawyers, Sydney who specialise in all aspects of Family Law. She is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel.Pamela holds a Masters of Arts degree together with a Bachelor of Laws Degree from University of New South Wales.