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The Law and You: How soon should I see a family lawyer?

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In an ideal world, everyone would see a family lawyer at the beginning of a de-facto relationship for advice, or to plan on how to divide up the assets if things don’t work out.

But, this is the real world. Relationships are complicated, dynamics change, and you may find yourself in a situation you never expected to be in with little information as to what to do.

How soon should I see a family lawyer?

If you see a family lawyer before getting married or entering into a de-facto relationship, you can obtain advice about the advantages of a ‘pre-nup’ or ‘pre-nuptial agreement’, or in legal terminology a ‘Binding Financial Agreement’.

These agreements set out how parties want to divide their assets if they separate. These agreements need to be correctly prepared or they may not be legally binding and can be challenged. If this happens, the process of reaching a settlement can be lengthy and expensive.

What if I don’t see a family lawyer beforehand?

If no Binding Financial Agreement is in place between you and your partner, the best time to see a family lawyer is when you want advice about protecting your assets in a relationship or as soon as you become concerned that your relationship might be breaking down.

Shouldn’t I wait until my relationship has broken down before contacting a lawyer?

No. Acknowledging that your relationship might be breaking down is an emotional step to take, but the sooner you obtain advice, the better the outcome might be for you, your partner and your family. Consider it as a precautionary measure.

What other advice will my family lawyer provide?

Family lawyers can also advise you on your best options to achieve a settlement with your partner and what your next best steps in any process might be. Establishing a relationship with your family lawyer early also means you can call on them for urgent advice if you need to. Family lawyers also have strong contact networks and can put you in touch with experienced counsellors or financial advisors who can help.

Family lawyers can also give you tips on how to protect your assets, including:

  • Getting in touch with your financial institution for advice on how to block large withdrawals that your partner might try to make on joint accounts.
  • Securing important items, including those of sentimental value.
  • Changing codes or passwords on your mobile phone or Internet banking.
  • Protecting other confidential and sensitive information.

My former partner and I can’t agree on how our assets should be divided. What are my options to achieve a property settlement?

Various dispute resolution options are available. Family dispute resolution processes such as lawyer-assisted mediation or collaboration are flexible and can be less expensive and faster than the alternative, which is litigation in Court.

When is it particularly important to consult a family lawyer early?

  • If there has been a history of domestic or family violence in your relationship.
  • If you have children. Family lawyers can help you formulate potential parenting arrangements for you and your children and connect you with specialty organisations who can help on how to minimise the impact on your children.
  • If you want to relocate interstate or overseas with your children. A family lawyer can provide early advice on what will be required, and the risks associated with relocating without your partner’s agreement.
  • If you have been in a de-facto relationship, but your partner now disagrees that it was de-facto.
  • If one party has significant financial assets but the other doesn’t. A family lawyer can advise on what your future settlement options might look like, taking into account contributions other than financial (such as taking care of the children).

It’s best to consult a family lawyer early. If this is too expensive for you, you still have other options.

Until 28 September 2018 at Watts McCray Canberra, is offering free first consultations for up to 20 minutes, for HerCanberra readers.

We can also advise on your options for legal fees if you don’t have immediate access to funds. Remember, one piece of advice can often alleviate anxieties, emotional hardship and distress later when circumstances might not be manageable.

This is a sponsored editorial. For more information on sponsored editorials, click here

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