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