When I tell people that I’m a family lawyer, the first thing I’m often asked is “oh I bet you must hear some interesting stories, does it get really nasty?”
Well, I do hear lots of interesting stories, both good and bad, and trying to untangle the rich, complex and dynamic lives that families live is part of what makes my job fascinating.
Sadly I do come across cases which fit the “nasty” stereotype and they often involve long, expensive and stressful court battles; hostile or non-existent communication between the parties (often with restraining orders in place); and where either or both parents place their own needs above their children’s needs which inevitably harms their development.
From a personal perspective, those cases are difficult and challenging and there’s usually no easy answers, although when running those matters I try to help clients achieve their long-term goals by working out an overall strategic plan with them rather than adding fuel to the fire.
However, in most cases, the unpleasant and hostile behaviour is usually just a symptom of a lack of trust arising from miscommunication. Inevitably there are an array of other personal emotions such as fear of the future and not wanting to lose “face” in a dispute that lead people to do and say things they ordinarily wouldn’t.
To offer useful and practical advice to my client, I need to understand these dynamics which is why I spend time discussing things that aren’t strictly speaking “legal” issues when I meet a client for the first time. I want to know what’s important to a client, what their goals are, how they’re coping with the separation, and how they communicate with their ex.
Despite the challenges arising from any long-term breakup, there is a way to tackle all the legal, emotional and practical issues in a way where the parties and their lawyers commit to reaching agreement by negotiation around a table, and not before a Judge.
That process is called collaborative law and it’s one that I’m a big fan of. In a collaboration, the focus is on settlement adopting an “interest-based” rather than wholly “rights-based” approach. The agenda and rules for collaboration are agreed between each of the participants and the outcomes that are achievable by collaboration are far more far-reaching and flexible than Court outcomes.
The process itself is usually more dignified, often cheaper, and can preserve relationships rather than destroy them.
Given the high stakes involved in a separation, it’s important to obtain advice at any early stage from a family lawyer who will promote less litigious outcomes and help clients set the right tone at the outset before passing the point of no return. A considered decision about process at the beginning can avoid things getting “nasty” and allow the real underlying issues to be addressed.
As appeared in The Australian Jewish News: Preserving the Peace – The Jewish News
For further advice regarding family law matters, please contact Farrar Gesini Dunn.