Working with accountants – Family trusts and separation

“Family trusts” are a common structure through which people may operate a business or hold assets.

There are various reasons why people may choose to place assets within a trust structure, but how are these structures (and other trust structures) regarded in the event of separation, divorce and family law proceedings? Do they offer any protection from a claim by an ex-spouse with respect to assets held by the trust?  And what issues arise in the family law context?

What is a family trust?                          

A family trust is typically a discretionary trust generally set up by a family member with other family members being the beneficiaries of the trust.

Primarily family trusts are established to achieve tax minimisation in the manner by which trust income and capital is distributed to the beneficiaries; and to provide protection to the assets of the trust. Protection of assets occurs because the legal interest in the assets is held by the trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Thus, trust asset protection can be achieved as assets are kept separate from the claims of the creditors of any individual beneficiary.

But do trusts protect trust property from a spouse of a person who may be a beneficiary or trustee of a trust?

What is property in the family law context?                                 

For the purposes of the Family Law Act 1975 the term “property” has a very broad definition. The Full Court has said:

“The word “property” is the most comprehensive of all the terms which can be used, in as much as it is indicative and descriptive of every possible interest a party can have.”[i]

Property can be real or personal and has been held to encompass interests including shares in Pty Ltd companies, partnership interests, contractual rights, rights under trade licences, beneficial interests in administered estates and rights with respect to property held in trusts.

Therefore, in being called upon to determine whether trust assets ought to be regarded as property for family law purposes, Judges will take a broad approach to answering that question.

In determining whether the assets of a trust ought to be included as property of the parties available for distribution between them, Courts exercising jurisdiction pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975 will examine what “influence and control” a party may exert over the trust.

The types of factors that the Court will look for include:

  • What position or role within the trust do the parties have within the trust structure? (i.e. settlor, appointer, trustee and beneficiary)
  • What distributions have occurred in the past?
  • Are there debit or credit loans/accounts?
  • What benefits have the parties received in terms of payment of expenses or salaries etc?

The High Court has held that in a situation where neither the husband or wife is a beneficiary of the Trust, the assets of the trust can be available for the “matrimonial property pool” based on factors such as the assets having been built up by the contributions of the parties over a long period.[ii]

In Kelly and Kelly (No2) the husband had no interest in the trust however the Court determined control based on his relationship with those who had an interest and that he received indirect financial advances. In this case the directors of the corporate trustee were the husband’s accountant, brother and wife. The husband was not a settlor, appointer or beneficiary.

Where the Court does not consider that the assets of the trust ought to be treated as property of the parties (such as where a party has a beneficial interest in a discretionary trust), it may be still be relevant to consider whether the interest is a mere expectancy (and irrelevant) or a financial resource of a party leading to an adjustment of the percentages of the overall matrimonial property pool each party receives.[iii] This is a situation where the history of distributions will be important evidence in firstly determining whether there is a financial resource, and secondly the weight to be applied (i.e. the level of percentage adjustment).

Other issues for Gold Coast family law solicitors and accountants?

There are a number of practical issues that arise in terms of proving a party’s case with respect to the trust and its assets, and with respect to how property may be distributed from a trust to a party to the marriage.

 

Family Law Disclosure

To determine the question of control, determine what interests the parties hold, and/or gain an understanding of what assets the trust holds, documents and information will be required. Often these documents will be held by a party’s accountant, and it is not uncommon for a spouse to lack access to documents, information or an understanding as to how the family financial affairs are structured.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Rules require parties make “full and frank” disclosure.[iv]

The types of documents family law solicitors will typically request from a party or their accountant are:

  • Tax returns with attached financials to determine what is the financial position of the trust;
  • Trust deeds (including deeds of variation) to determine the structure and issues of control;
  • For any corporate trustee a copy of the corporate constitution;
  • Bank statements and any credit card statements for trust accounts evidencing transactions;
  • Minutes of trustee meetings relevant to control and history of dealings;
  • Register of assets and/or register of distributions;
  • Loan agreements with respect to loan accounts;
  • If the trust is operating a business (as is commonly the case), disclosure of relevant business records to determine value, assets and financial dealings.

The above is not exhaustive, and disclosure will be required depending on the circumstances and relevance.

If a party refuses to disclose, it can impact negatively upon their case and cause the Court to draw adverse inferences in some situations.

Further, trustees have obligations under State and Territory legislation to maintain certain records which beneficiary have a right to inspect. Subpoenas are also an available remedy to compel a recalcitrant party (or a third party such as an accountant) to provide documents or give evidence.

Issues for family law settlements involving trusts and transfer of property from trusts to a spouse or former spouse

There are a number of issues that can arise in relation to transfer of trust assets and income at separation.

These types of issues include:

  • Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”) – where an asset pregnant with CGT is transferred from the trust to a spouse (or de facto spouse). In this situation the spouse takes the asset pregnant with the CGT however the transfer from trust to spouse attracts CGT rollover relief.[v]
  • Tax issues from settlement distributions – If as part of a family law settlement a distribution from a trust is contemplated, it will be important to determine whether the intended recipient is still a beneficiary. A spouse who was a beneficiary may no longer be a beneficiary as at the date of settlement. For example, if the parties are divorced and the former spouse doesn’t fit the definition of a class of beneficiary pursuant to the deed after the marriage is dissolved. This can create issues as to how the ATO will regard and tax the payment.
  • Tax issues from past distributions – If tax hasn’t been assessed on past financial years distributions, the tax needs to be considered in determining the overall pool available for distribution and whether the liable party will pay, or if the other party will be responsible for the tax. Sometimes it is an issue that tax on prior years distributions is payable, but that spouse party hasn’t received the distribution (income splitting between spouses). In this situation however, the beneficiary can enforce the actual payment of the distribution.
  • Division 7A Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 – In some circumstances where distributions have been made to a private company, but not paid (present unpaid entitlements or UPE), Div 7A tax may be payable.

It is important for family lawyers drafting orders to consider all the potential issues arising from the proposed transfers, and where applicable, ensure that clients obtain accounting advice before finalising property settlement orders.

Family law advice

If you have any queries in relation to separation, divorce, de facto relationships, property settlement or child support payments, my firm Hooper Family Lawyers can assist you with practical advice.

We are family lawyers servicing all areas in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

[i] In the Marriage of Duff (1977) 29 FLR 46 – approving the statement by Lord Langdale MR in Jones v Skinner 5 LJ Ch. 87.
[ii] Kennon v Spry (2008) FLC 93-388 – in this case the trust was set up by an expert on the law of trusts likely for the purposes of placing assets beyond the reach of the wife.
[iii] Kelly and Kelly (No2) FLC 91-108.
[iv] Family Court Rules 2004 R13.04 and Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 R20.04.
[v] S 126-5 Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

It is not uncommon for people meeting with their family lawyer for the first time to raise issues of fault, wrong doing or poor conduct by the other party.

Many people automatically assume these are the types of issues that will be most relevant in the event that going to Court becomes necessary.

In my experience, if a party is suffering from the loss of the relationship, betrayal associated with an extra-marital affair or fear of change, retribution and validation of those feelings can also drive a client’s perception as to what is relevant or important. Again, in my experience, this often manifests as an aggressive approach to litigation, intractable positions, and allegations being raised in correspondence and court documents and in some cases harassing behaviour or family violence.

 

In general terms, what does the Family Law say about fault or conduct?

Prior to the Family Law reforms in 1975, there were 14 grounds for Divorce, the majority of which were fault based. This included conduct such as habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, desertion, adultery, imprisonment etc.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 was repealed in 1975 to remove the 14 grounds and introduce one ground, that is, “irretrievable breakdown of the marital relationship”.

Whilst proving fault under the 14 grounds was difficult and often unsavoury (imagine private investigators spying on people to prove an affair, or taking photographs etc), proving the irretrievable breakdown ground only requires a 12-month period of separation.

The general flavour of the reform across the wider areas of parenting orders, property settlement and spousal maintenance, was also to recognise the undesirability of “fault” paying a part and to move away from evidence relating to bad conduct being raised in proceedings.

 

Does fault pay any part now then?

The answer is yes.

In some circumstances fault still does play a role. Not with respect to divorce but in relation to certain aspects of parenting, property and spousal maintenance.

 

Parenting orders

As I have discussed elsewhere on this site, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court judges have a broad discretion to make Parenting Orders subject to the best interests of children being the paramount consideration, and considering the Objects and Principles underpinning the Family Law Act 1975 relating to children’s cases.

Often fault or conduct will be relevant in determining whether children are at an unacceptable risk of harm, whether a parent has capacity to properly care for children, maturity and lifestyle of the parents, family violence and other conduct depending on the circumstances.

Thus, conduct such as family violence, alcohol/substance dependency issues and poor lifestyle choices (for example surrounding neglect) can clearly be understood as being relevant in a child custody case.

In my experience however, it sometimes occurs that people will want to place greater restrictions on the other parent’s time as “punishment” for bad behaviour, such as extramarital affairs or re-partnering, and this is not something relevant to who children live with or spend time with.

Indeed, this type of anger can often backfire, with the party’s who’s conduct is creating high conflict being examined as a potential source of risk of emotional harm to children.

This is where a good family lawyer can help, by determining the relevant from the irrelevant and assessing the evidence which is the currency of any court.

 

Property settlement

In my view there is less scope for fault or conduct to be relevant in a property matter.

Again, anger over affairs, re-partnering, loss of a life partner etc is not directly relevant but it can certainly drive a dispute. Family lawyers can assist in filtering some emotion from communications and how your evidence is presented.

Mediators assist by diagnosing the underlying causes of a dispute and using interventions such as reframing to provide a more neutral or positive interpretation of events.

Some examples of the type of conduct that can be relevant is as follows:

  • Losses from reckless, wanton or negligent conduct. This would include deliberately destroying an asset, things such as gambling losses or behaviour such as removing or hiding property without sufficient explanation. The conduct would be relevant, but the judge retains a broad discretion as to how the conduct will affect distribution of assets.
  • Family violence in some limited circumstances can be regarded. Lawyers often call these cases Kennon cases”. In these situations, one party’s violence has made the other party’s contributions to the property pool, or welfare of the family, more onerous. From a practical perspective evidence may be difficult to obtain to establish the “special burden” and the weight this evidence will be afforded is at the judge’s discretion.
  • Generally, a Court will consider you take your partner as they are i.e. a spend thrift or a saver, however in some circumstances it may be possible to argue “negative contribution” due to excessive habits or poor judgement with money. While cases often interpret this type of behaviour differently it will usually come down to a question of degree in the context of the amount of property available for distribution.

 

How Hooper Family Lawyers Gold Coast and Brisbane can help?

The Family Law jurisdiction is complex and often judges have broad discretion to weigh and interpret evidence. As experienced, specialist family law solicitors we can identify for you what is relevant, tell you how we think a Court will interpret the evidence you present us with, provide a filter for emotion or anger and move towards a faster resolution.

As identified above, sometimes placing evidence of irrelevant conduct or the making allegations of misconduct without sufficient evidence can back fire for your case and put you in a worse position. Thus, your choice of solicitor is an important one.

Regardless of whether you wish to see us in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast, we look forward to helping you resolve your family and de facto law issues in a timely and cost-effective manner. Please contact our Coolangatta office on 5599 3026 for an appointment with an Accredited Family Law Specialist. If you would like more information about us, please visit our website at https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/

 

1 – Section 60CC(3)(m) refers to any other fact or circumstance that the court thinks is relevant. Thus, there is a potential for almost any other form of conduct to be raised if it’s is relevant.

2 – In the marriage of Kennon [1997]F.L.C.92-757

Hooper Family Lawyers has now set up our office in Coolangatta, Gold Coast. Family law covers a broad range of areas. We aim to bring our clients much needed advice and, if need be, representation in Court.

 

  • Consultations

Few people wake up one day and decide to separate. There’s different circumstances that lead to this decision. It’s important to approach such a significant life event with all the information you can obtain and thus it’s equally important to speak with an expert before making life changing decisions. Making an appointment with one of our team is the best first step to take. Consultations are on average 1 ½ hours. You will obtain the best legal advice that applies to your situation.

When you make an appointment with the Gold Coast office, make sure to fill out an initial attendance instruction sheet so your solicitor understands the background to your situation before we meet you.

 

  • Divorce and separation

If married parties have been separated for 12 months, this is evidence of irreconcilable differences allowing a divorce application to be made. Hopefully before reaching this point efforts have been made to engage in marriage/relationship counselling, unfortunately not always successfully. Our Hooper Family Lawyers Gold Coast office can assist you with advice.

 

  • Mediation

Hooper Family Lawyers also provide mediation services on the Gold Coast. Many family law cases are settled at mediation which means court involvement is not required. A mediator is a neutral third party who facilitates disputing parties to reach their own parenting or property settlement agreements. In parenting matters this is sometimes known as FDR or Family Dispute Resolution. Peter Hooper is an Accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner able to provide private FDR in parenting disputes.

The main benefits of mediation are self-determination of the dispute, reduced costs, less delay and hopefully better relationship moving forward where children are involved.

 

  • Property settlement

There is no presumption of a 50/50 property split in Australia. There are a number of different factors taken into account by the Court in determining how property is divided between separating couples. If there are complex structures surrounding assets such as trusts or corporate structures or there is a business, it is very important to obtain expert advice early on.

 

  • Custody and parenting plans

Custody arrangements and parenting plans can be resolved at mediation. In some mediations the mediator might suggest a “child inclusive process”. Child-inclusive mediation via a specially trained expert, able to meet with the children, and report to the parties as to how the dispute might be impacting the children and assist the parties to place greater focus on the best interests of their children. Research indicates this helps in creating more amicable, longer lasting parenting plans and custody recommendations, with greater satisfaction for the parties.

For most people going to court is a daunting experience. The gravity of the occasion, coupled with the formality of the environment can be extremely stressful and can cause a lot of anxiety.

The good news is you can prepare yourself for the experience, and hopefully reduce some of your stress/anxiety to give yourself the best opportunity of presenting well before the Judge.

The Family Law Courts

Before getting into the practical aspects of your court appearance, I think it is helpful to know a little bit about the background of the system you’re in.

The family law system in Australia is largely controlled by the Federal and not State Governments. This means most of the laws are made by the Federal Parliament, and the primary source of these laws is the Family Law Act 1975 Cth (“FLA” for short).

A number of different courts can exercise jurisdiction under the Family Law Act but the court that most people will attend in a family law parenting or property settlement matter is the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

This court is where most of the day to day family law business is conducted and from here on when I say “court” this is the court I’m referring to.

More complex matters and appeals from the Federal Circuit Court are generally dealt with by the Family Court. In some circumstances State Magistrates Court can exercise jurisdiction and the High Court is the last avenue for appeal.

Thus, when you attend court in a family law matter it will usually be in different building to traffic matters, criminal matters and commercial law suits etc.

How does a matter come to court?

A matter comes before the court when a party files an application for final orders. This party is called “the applicant”.

When applying for final orders a party can seek interim orders as well. Final orders are the orders you want long term, while interim orders are orders you are seeking while you are waiting for the final orders to be determined.

Once the application is filed it will be given a court seal and a date to come to court. This date is usually referred to as “the first return date”.

The application is then served on the other party (“the respondent”), who will respond with the orders they are seeking (and hopefully state whether they agree to any of the orders the applicant wants).

Each court has their own Rules as to how this process is to occur and for the Federal Circuit Court the relevant Rules are the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001.

What about once the matter is in court?

Once the application is filed, responded to, and the parties first come before the Judge, you can expect the court to direct a number of procedural steps before a Judge can be called upon to make a decision to determine the matter.

These procedural steps (called directions) generally relate to each party gathering the information necessary for the Judge to do his or her job in determining the case based upon the evidence produced by each party, and, most importantly, to assist the parties to explore alternate dispute resolution options.

Just because the matter is filed in court doesn’t mean it will go to a final hearing or trial. In a property matter (and sometimes in parenting matters) mediation will be ordered after proceedings are commenced and once there is sufficient evidence available for the parties to settle the dispute.

Resolution can occur at any time during the process and is strongly encouraged by Judges and most legal practitioners.

If the matter does proceed to a trial, there will be a number of different court hearings before your trial dates are set in the court calendar.

The court’s time is precious as there are a large number of matters and a limited number of Judges. Therefore, several appearances are usually necessary to ensure everything is ready before matters are allocated their trial dates.

So, I’m in Court…

At any time during the process when you’re in open court (i.e. your matter is called before the Judge) there are a number of important things to remember.

If you have a lawyer, you have an advantage in court because your lawyer will do the speaking for you.

If you have a lawyer rarely will you be addressed directly by the Judge. Obviously if you’re at the Trial and called upon for cross-examination you will need to speak at that point (a whole other blog), but for most of the procedural hearings you will not be required to speak.

Even if you have a lawyer, it is important to conduct yourself with proper respect for the Judge and institution of the court.

This means dressing appropriately, making sure your phone is off or turned down, no sunglasses on your head, refraining from making noises or facial expressions if something is said you don’t agree with, not fidgeting etc.

It is also important to remember that even when your matter is not before the Judge and you are waiting at the back of the court, the Judge can see you. This means be respectful and act appropriately at all times.

If you don’t have a lawyer, things can be a bit more difficult and my recommendation would be to consider the following:

  • Again, show respect for the Judge and court as set out above in relation to dress etc;
  • Don’t talk over the Judge or other party. Typically, the applicant speaks to the Judge first and then the respondent. You will have your turn to speak so remain patient;
  • Listen carefully to any questions the Judge asks you. Judges are busy, and they will have a good idea in advance how to manage your matter. Answer questions directly and don’t try to give explanations instead of answers;
  • At procedural hearings, it is not the time to tell the Judge about your whole case and your evidence. This only occurs at the trial. If there is to be an interim hearing for interim orders, stick to the facts and circumstances necessary to achieve the interim orders you seek. The Judge can’t make “findings of fact” anyway on an interim basis so usually you will be referring the Judge to the facts and circumstances that are agreed or not controversial;
  • Be on time; and
  • Never tell the Judge something that isn’t true. This is critical because if you lose credibility with the Judge they may not believe you on other issues after that.

One of the big disadvantages you have as a self-represented litigant is the Judge gets to see you perform at every hearing in the lead up to the trial.

If you have a lawyer, your case is filtered through the lawyer before you are called to be cross-examined at a final hearing or trial.

For the most part, the court is operated on a “docket system” which means that the Judge you have at the start of the matter will be the one who also hears the final hearing or trial. Judges are smart people and will remember you, if they have observed you to be calm, respectful and considered throughout the proceeding this will hold you in good stead in presenting your case.

If your matter is going to court and you need assistance, contact Hooper Family Lawyers at Victoria Point on (07) 3207 7663.

 

Need more info about what to expect in a divorce?

5 myths about property settlement, busted

What a divorce lawyer wants clients to know

“What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” …but what about the joint bank accounts?

Most people who are married or in committed relationships intertwine their finances. Typically, this takes the form of joint ownership of the family home, motor vehicles and of course the joint bank account (or credit card).

While most people realise there is a process to divide assets and work out who receives what, in our experience there is often confusion regarding the law surrounding accessing jointly held cash.

Common questions people ask family lawyers are:

  • Can I take my half from the joint bank account?
  • Can I take all of it?
  • He/she has transferred it to their account, but I know the banking passwords – can I take it back?
  • How can I stop him/her accessing the joint account?

What’s ours is mine…

When people co-own a bank account both parties are equally entitled to access all of the money i.e. they don’t own half each. They each own the full amount.

This means that whoever gets to the bank first (figuratively speaking – probably the computer first) can legally clean out the joint account.

In this situation it would be necessary for the party who didn’t take the money to take further steps to protect their interests. Neither the bank nor the Police would bear any responsibility to rectify the situation.

Fortunately, however the Family Law Act 1975 does contain remedies and provide Judges with power to address this situation on an interim, or final basis.

For example, if someone was to transfer money to their own account from the joint account, the Court would be able to make Orders, such as, for some or all of the money to be paid to the other person, restrain a person from further dealing with the money, or Order that it be paid into a trust account pending the final determination of all of the issues.

What’s yours is mine…

It is also not uncommon for married couples or people in de facto relationships or other committed relationships to share passwords, pin numbers or banking details (their banks would be angry if they found out).

We have also encountered situations where some people regard being married, or in a de facto relationship (particularly for a long time) as granting equal rights to property. This is not the case.

Being married or in a relationship does not convey property rights.

People may have a common use of property, but ultimately if property is not jointly owned it generally belongs to one of them.

During the relationship it may have been ok to use credit cards, bank accounts or make bank transfers from your partners account but only because this was impliedly or expressly authorised.

If there is no authorisation from the owner, then accessing funds in the above manner may well be stealing, and land you in hot water with the police.

As a general rule, if you’re separated do not use the ex-partners cards or accounts unless there is an express authorisation (in writing).

What’s mine is yours…

The Family Law Act 1975 empowers the Court to adjust interests in property provided the Court does “justice and equity” i.e. the court can take what’s yours and make it his or hers.

The Court also has a number of powers (alluded to above) that can assist in making sure property that may be distributed between the parties to the relationship, is protected until such time as all of the matters are considered.

There is also steps that people can take themselves to avoid Court, unnecessary costs and inflaming the situations. Some examples are:

  • Contact the bank and see if they have an ability to “freeze” an account at the behest of one party;
  • Have a discussion with your ex-partner. Ask them whether they will agree to splitting the funds a certain way, or whether they will agree to having the money deposited to a neutral third party such as a solicitor’s trust account, to be held for both parties.

If in doubt and before taking action that you feel may not be right or may likely inflame your situation, please contact a family law solicitor at Hooper Family Lawyers at Victoria Point or Coolangatta on 3207 7663 for advice.

Alternatively for more information we have many helpful resources on our website.

Accredited Specialist Family Lawyers Gold Coast and Coolangatta

Hooper Family Lawyers is making a sea change…of sorts…we’re staying in the Brisbane Bayside (we love it here) however we now also have a branch office on Griffith Street, Coolangatta.

We will be offering specialised Family Law advice to the Gold Coast and Northern NSW regions including:

  • Family law advice;
  • Consent orders;
  • Parenting Plans and child custody matters;
  • Mediation;
  • Property settlement;
  • Spousal maintenance;
  • Domestic Violence protection;
  • All other aspects of de facto and family law legal and Court representation.

Our office in Coolangatta is situated within walking distance to the Magistrates Court at Coolangatta, and we will be providing representation in the Federal Circuit Courts at Lismore and Southport, as well as representation in the Brisbane Family and Federal Circuit Courts.

For us this is an exciting opportunity to grow our firm, forge new relationships, and provide our expert family law services on the Gold Coast and Northern NSW.

Our mediation services via “Decide Mediation” will also be available from the Gold Coast office, and we are available to travel for mediation from Brisbane to Coolangatta and Northern NSW.

Regardless of whether you wish to see us in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast, we look forward to helping you resolve your family and de facto law issues in a timely and cost effective manner. Please contact our Coolangatta office on 1800 891 878 for an appointment with an Accredited Family Law Specialist. If you would like more information about us, please visit our website at https://www.hooperfamilylawyers.com.au/

Christmas and holidays are common sources of conflict when making custody arrangements. Which parent gets to spend the actual day with their child? Does the child have to go through two Christmases? Your first Christmas post-divorce will be difficult but we have some advice to help you get through.

Dr Robert Emery, PhD, advises parents that sometimes it’s better not to be friends post-divorce. Sometimes it works and couples reconcile (though this is rare). But when the relationship is beyond salvaging and there’s lingering bitterness, he recommends the following: treat your ex as a business partner. You’re bound together by the child you have, and there’s still a job to do. Dr Emery further explains how to handle the holidays in his blog on Psychology Today:

  • Remember that Christmas isn’t about you or one-upping your ex through the gifts you give. Explain the values that come with Christmas to your kids (thankfulness, forgiveness etc)
  • Make new traditions with your kids. If they don’t spend the actual day with you, create your own brand of Christmas that year.
  • Don’t avoid your ex-partner. Communicate and schedule visiting times, and even presents. This way you both know your child’s movements and you don’t double up on gifts.

Divorce and the whole process will hit the kids hard, writes, Christina McGhee. Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to explain the situation as best they can, and what’s going to happen next. Christina urges parents to be transparent about how the upcoming Christmas will be different to those in the past. She also recommends these steps to keep sanity, perspective and emotions in order:

  • Let the children’s needs be the backbone of planning your Christmas
  • Explain that different doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Rather, it’s a chance to start new traditions with each parent.
  • Make sure you care for yourself, whether it’s for an hour or a day. Your emotions are going through the wringer and the children are going to pick up on it if you don’t stay calm.

Separation and divorce proceedings can cause strong emotional reactions such as anger, hurt, fear and anxiety about the future. When emotions are running high it can be difficult to make the best choices.

The following are some tips to assist you with the emotional aspects of marriage breakdown.

  • Consider reconciliation

Divorcing isn’t always the final solution. Ask yourself whether the relationship can be salvaged. There are relationship counselling services you can access and participate in as a couple.

The Family Law Act 1975 requires that your family law solicitor provides you with prescribed material regarding the availability of reconciliation services. Prevention is better than cure, so ultimately reconciliation may be the best outcome for your family, emotionally and financially.

  • What if the marriage or relationship cannot be saved?

Often when people are at the point of obtaining advice from a family lawyer, the reality is the relationship can’t be saved.

If you find yourself separating, there are steps you can take to make the process a bit easier on yourself.

  • Don’t forget the self-care

Taking care of yourself makes you feel better in a difficult situation.   

It’s not always easy to do but getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, exercise and getting help, or information, will improve your situation and outlook. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression a useful place to start is with your general practitioner who can refer you to psychologists or counsellors.

Your lawyer can help to demystify the legal process, and provide you with a road map for resolution leading to the next phase of your life.

Something simple, like your favourite meal, is a great form of self-care

Something simple, like your favourite meal, is a great form of self-care

  • Flexibility

If you’re negotiating property settlement or children’s time, it is important to consider keeping an open mind and not become “positioned”.

Becoming positioned is when you draw lines in the sand, create “bottom lines” and say things like “my way or the highway”.

Often in negotiations or mediation, it is more useful to consider the interests of everyone involved (including children), the costs involved in litigation (including the non-financial, emotional cost of a protracted legal fight) and the time you will spend dealing with lawyers and Courts that you could be spending getting on with your life.

  • Try not to “mirror” hostile behaviour

Often separation isn’t amicable. You may find yourself confronted with aggressive, angry and unreasonable behaviour.

If you’re also angry it can be a natural reaction to respond in kind. This situation is rarely helpful and tends to escalate conflict.  Conflict in family law matters tends to make resolutions more difficult to achieve and can be very emotionally harmful to children caught up in the middle of such a dispute between their parents.

You can’t control what your ex-partner is doing but you can control yourself, and choose not to mirror destructive behaviours. Often when one party refuses to “mirror” aggression, a de-escalation will occur. Family violence of course should not be tolerated in any context. If you or a family member is confronted by family violence or threats of family violence you should contact police or discuss options for your safety with your lawyer.

  • Get proper advice

You may find after separation you start receiving lots of advice from family and friends about your “legal rights”. While they generally mean well, be wary of the back yard or BBQ advice.

Family law is complex and while someone may know someone with a situation similar to yours, family law outcomes will depend on many different factors unique to individual circumstances. Early advice from a family law solicitor will assist you understand what you need to do, and will likely make you feel better.

In my experience, one of the most common types of remarks people make leaving my office after an initial attendance for advice is “thank you, I feel much better now”.

Need more help? We have these too:

You may have received information about property settlements from television shows, back yard BBQ’s, people you know, and good old Google searches. There’s a problem with this, though. Only your divorce lawyer (also called a family lawyer) can properly advise and guide you through the settlement process.

When you don’t have a family lawyer, what you find, hear or read
might not apply to you, like these five (debunked) myths below.

 

Myth #1: We can only start dividing property once we divorce

Not true. You can begin settlement proceedings when you separate. Calling your family/divorce lawyer is an important first step to take if you know there’s no chance of reconciliation.

Getting the right information early assists in minimising conflict, obtaining faster resolution and reducing legal costs.

Your divorce lawyer at Hooper Family Lawyers will answer any questions you have during an initial consultation, which can take up to two hours. Bring any documents you believe are important and make a list of you and your partner’s assets, superannuation and liabilities.

 

Myth #2: Everything is a 50/50 split

Just because you’re married or in a de facto relationship doesn’t mean assets are split 50/50 on separation.

The law requires that the contributions and future economic circumstances of the parties are examined. The amount of time the parties are together and number and age of children is often examined in assessing how much one side will receive.

The contributions of the parties are not just financial, but also non-financial and as homemaker and parent. Financial contributions do not rank more highly than others. That saying ‘money isn’t everything’ certainly applies here.

 

Myth #3: The only way to end this is going to court

Your divorce lawyer, divorce lawyer or family lawyer assists you to avoid going to court. Most will regard it as the last option. Instead of going to court, most divorce cases can get settled through mediation.

Even if court proceedings begin, the process is very much geared towards settlement. There’ll be directions for a conciliation conference or mediation ordered early on. Statistically, of the matters that begin in court only about 2% to 5% go all the way through to a final hearing.

 

Myth #4: The breadwinner will get more

The Court looks at the contributions that are direct and indirect, financial and nonfinancial. They also regard the acquisition, conservation and improvement of the properties for settlement; and as parent and homemaker, when it comes to adjusting property and superannuation. Even if one parent was a homemaker and didn’t work, they still contributed significantly to raising the children and maintaining the home. This is regarded the same as the breadwinner’s contribution.

When deciding how to divide property, the Court looks at the following:

  • The net value of the property, assets and superannuation
  • Contributions both parties have made over the years
  • The future needs of each side

 

Myth #5: My partner cheated, so the odds are in my favour

The Family Law Act 1975 introduced the concept of “no fault” divorce. Therefore the majority of judges aren’t concerned with any alleged misconduct from one side. Not even when the misconduct could be regarded as “immoral” or similar.

This changes if the misconduct has an economic impact. Where there has been a negligent, reckless or wanton destruction of property, the conduct of whoever’s responsible is considered. Gambling or even the effect of domestic violence on property are examples of this.

In child custody cases, behaviour/conduct is closely examined. The conduct, though, must be relevant to best interests of the child, especially when protecting them from unnecessary risks. Will the settlement affect a parent’s ability to keep their kids safe from emotional, physical or sexual harm?

The above are some of the “myths” commonly encountered, but there’s plenty more out there. You best way forward is to trust a family law expert, your divorce lawyer. We set you on the correct path from the moment you walk into your consultation.

When a separation happens, it’s logical to contact a divorce lawyer to guide you through the process. There’s a lot of advice for them to give and they can’t explain it all in one meeting, so we compiled this list.

Help us help you.

It’s better to come prepared to the initial meeting and the ones that follow. Relevant dates (marriage, birth dates etc), financial documents such as tax information, payslips, receipts, phone records, letters, and the like will help your divorce lawyer get a better picture of the situation. It is very helpful to produce a list of all of the assets and liabilities of the marriage or relationship.

Don’t do things out of spite.

Divorces are what you make of them, and contrary to common belief there is such a thing as an amicable divorce. It’s not good to be that person who throws out their partner’s things onto the pavement and blasts angry messages over Facebook. Vindictive, angry behaviour makes resolution more difficult and in some cases amounts to family violence.

Don’t listen to divorce gossip.

No matter how good your friend’s or family’s intentions are, everyone’s situation is different. Don’t ruin a potentially smooth process by comparing your situation to your sister’s/neighbour’s/anyone else’s. It’ll cause you headaches of all different kinds.

You are important, so take care of yourself.

Get a counsellor if you need to. Lean on someone you trust (just don’t listen to their divorce advice) and be with your children. Go to the gym and sweat out some frustration. There’s no ‘emotional justice’ in divorce, or control on either side. So don’t expect to ‘win’ per se, just be happy you made it through.

The process takes time.

The courts, the law, and the paperwork in your divorce moves according to its own schedule. Litigation takes even longer thanks to court dates, applications and the like. Your divorce lawyer will advise against going to court, but sometimes it can’t get helped if there’s major issues that can’t be resolved easily. Clients shouldn’t expect to walk away from the whole affair quickly. There’s assets to divide and sometimes custody to work out.

You can’t talk to your spouse’s solicitor.

If you have representation of your own, it’s not allowed. If you try and contact them they won’t speak to you. Your own divorce lawyer is on your side and is there to convey messages. You can trust them to do it.