Legal Costs

How Can I Keep Control of My Legal Costs?

How can you keep control of your legal costs and ensure you’re getting the best results for your money?

Legal Costs

Keeping control of Legal Costs.

 

 

Retaining an experienced family lawyer will greatly help you through the legal process and reduce the stress that comes with separation and finalising agreements with your former partners. Family law proceedings can be costly but you should make sure that you are containing those costs where you can and avoiding unnecessary costs. Here are some things to consider to help you retain control over your legal costs:

1. Obtain legal advice from an experienced family lawyer early on about your entitlement

You do have the option of representing yourself but a family lawyer can advise you what is reasonable for you to expect, whether for arrangements for your children or for property settlement. This will go a long way towards helping you to reach an agreement with your former partner sooner rather than later. Time spent claiming more than your entitlement is likely to increase both the time taken to reach a settlement as well as your legal bill.

2. Instruct a lawyer to act for you

Make sure that you obtain advice from a competent family lawyer and have that lawyer draft and finalise your legal documents. One area of activity for family lawyers is applications to Court for people who prepared their own documents only to find that they were unworkable and that further orders of the Court were needed to correct errors that could have been avoided in the first place had a competent family lawyer been involved.

3. Be Specific

Remember that lawyers generally charge on a time incurred basis. You should certainly ask your lawyer whatever questions you may have. Be careful though not to provide them with information outside of what they request from you from time to time. You will be billed for your lawyer’s time spent reviewing material so it is important for you that time is not spent reviewing material that was not requested and which is not relevant. Remember that a lawyer is entitled to bill you for their time, including where you tell them about how you may feel about your former partner’s attitude towards you or about his or her behaviours. If your lawyer requires those kinds of details, for example for a domestic violence matter or where parenting is in issue, he or she will let you know. Otherwise, it is likely better for you to speak to a trusted friend about your feelings. You may also want to consider obtaining some counselling to help you through separation which is understandably a harrowing time for many people.

4. Prepare initial important information for your lawyer

This will save your lawyer time and time saved is money saved for you. We have set out below some information that you can prepare to give your lawyer at your initial meeting. There will be other information that your lawyer will request but being ready to provide this information will help in saving time.

  • Property Matters
      • : If you have

    a property matter

      , take with you to the first meeting with your lawyer a list of all current assets and liabilities whether held in your name, in the name of your former partner or held jointly or by any corporation or trust which you own or control. It will also assist to provide at least an estimate of the current market value of those items. Don’t be concerned if you do not have all of this information at the outset. You can obtain the details of your former partner’s financial position by requiring his or her financial disclosure and your lawyer can assist you with that. You should also be ready to provide your lawyer with information about the financial and non-financial contributions which each of you and your former partner made to the relationship both at the date of commencement of cohabitation as well as during the relationship. This will include what assets and liabilities you each held at or during those times as well as financial windfall gains such as inheritances as well as information regards the role that you each took in care of the children; home duties; DIY work; home renovations and administration of your lives together.
  • Children Arrangements
      : If you are concerned with arrangements for your children, be prepared at the first meeting with your lawyer to provide details of your children’s full names and dates of birth; schools they attend & some information as to their progress as well as details of any special needs; the level and kind of care that each of you and your former partner provided for the children both during the relationship and since separation; time that the children have spent with each of you since separation; the current living conditions for the children whilst in your care and whilst in the care of your former partner; any child abuse or domestic violence (including details of reports to Police and any Protection Orders applied for or obtained) & information regards any alcohol or drug abuse by either you or your former partner.

5. Provide full and frank disclosure

Each of you and your former partner have an obligation to provide full and frank disclosure of your financial position. If you finally settle your matter without having done this, you risk having any Orders you have obtained or any binding financial agreement set aside and costs awarded against you on a future application to the family court by your former partner. Your lawyer can advise you regards the documents that you are required to disclose to your former partner.

6. Be considered about how you provide your instructions

After your initial meeting with your lawyer, where practical, give what information you can by email to your lawyer. Your lawyer can then let you know if he or she wishes to speak with you about the content of the email or requires further information. If you are calling to relate limited, concise information or to confirm a meeting, it can be more cost effective to leave a message for your lawyer with his or her assistant rather than speak directly with the lawyer.

7. Set aside your personal feelings as much as possible when negotiating with your former partner

This can be difficult to do but trying to use the negotiation or court process to punish your former partner or taking a “winner takes it all” approach to reaching final agreement with your former partner will very likely result in it taking far longer to finally settle your matter. The longer it takes, the more costly it is not only for your former partner but also for you. Doing what you can to ensure that both you and your former partner are not spending money needlessly on legal costs is going to benefit both you and your former partner and therefore your children also.

8. Be willing to compromise and settle your matter as early as possible

If your wish is to press your matter to its limits, your lawyer will follow your instructions. Sometimes though, it is better to compromise and concede on some points or to take something less in a property settlement in order to finalise an agreement with your former partner. This will be particularly so where the cost of continuing with your matter exceeds the benefit or amount of what you may be conceding. Again, this is where it is important to keep a level head. There are many examples of people who refused to settle their matter and continued on only to settle at the same level or less in their favour at a later point in time but after having spent considerably more in legal fees. There is too that once you settle your matter, you can get on with living and planning for your future. For many people, this is a reason in itself to compromise and settle early.

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Using Social Media During a Family Law Matter

 

We see people letting off steam all the time through social media platforms like Facebook, twitter and Instagram. Email and text messages too are an easy way to vent our feelings. In a matter of seconds, your comments may also be shared on Facebook; your tweets re-tweeted or your emails or texts received and forwarded. Beware that using social media, email or text to vent during a family law matter is definitely a perilous thing to do.

Can social media be used in a family law matter?

Guiding Principle

The guiding principle is fairly simple. You should not use social media, email or any form of messaging to discuss or comment upon your family law matter or anything or anyone involved in your family law matter. You should especially avoid comments relating to your former partner’s behaviour or requirements concerning your family law matter; your children in relation to your separation; anything or anyone related to a family law action or comments on any other subject relating to negotiations or agreements to be entered into with your former partner.

If you do this, you risk prejudicing or at least complicating your own case. Even where you are not in Court, these entries, emails or texts may prejudice any claims that you are making for property settlement or damage your claim for arrangements that you seek for your children by revealing information that may undermine your case. Those entries may also lead your former partner or his or her solicitors to make enquiry about matters that would not otherwise have come to their attention but for the communications that you may have made.
If you are in Court, you may well find that your social media entries or emails or texts are reproduced in your former partner’s affidavits to your detriment.
You may also be committing an indictable offence under section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).

Prejudice to your case/Live Examples

Imagine for example that you are claiming that you are available to care for your children and are therefore seeking that they spend time with you for five nights every fortnight. An entry that you made on facebook some time previous however refers to your plans to work interstate on a fly in fly out basis. It may be that those plans have been aborted or it may be that your fly in fly out arrangements do not interfere with the care arrangements that you are seeking for your children. Either way, production of that facebook entry by your former partner or his or her lawyers may well complicate your claim.

Another example would be facebook posts or tweets that refer to your recent overseas travel at a time when you are claiming spousal maintenance from your former partner. You are entitled to enjoy a holiday. It may even be that the particular holiday was done on a close budget. However, whilst you must disclose details of your financial circumstances, facebook entries of this kind in the hands of your former partner or his or her solicitors may again complicate your claim, possibly raising the spectre that you may not have the required financial need for spousal maintenance or causing your former partner or his or her solicitors to make enquiry requiring further disclosure of any other funds that may be available to you.

Risk of breach of Family Law Act and possible prejudice to claims you are making

Comments that you may make through social media, email or messaging, for example, sharing a post on facebook or instagram or tweeting, may involve a breach of section 121 of the Family Law Act punishable on conviction by imprisonment for a period of up to one year. There may be a breach of that section where those comments identify any parties; related persons (such as children; an Independent Children’s Lawyer of Family Report Writers) or witnesses to proceedings before the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. You should be aware that your former partner and his or her lawyers may be looking at your facebook entries. This will be a risk even where you have strong privacy settings or you have set up restricted groups to share information.

The safest policy

…is to avoid using social media during your family law matter and not to make any comment about it; your former partner or any other person connected to your family law matter in any emails or messages that you may send.

If you need advice or want to learn more, contact us today and receive a free 15 minute consultation.