Separation: How to do it the Right Way
Separation. Is this you? Clare Quinn is a family lawyer based in Bundall. She explains the right way to proceed if you and your partner separate. First, take a deep breath. Then another. Because the plan
Separation. Is this you? Clare Quinn is a family lawyer based in Bundall. She explains the right way to proceed if you and your partner separate.
First, take a deep breath. Then another. Because the plan here is to stay calm and collected. And, act with dignity throughout this process without exception. You need to do separation the right way, from the very beginning of the process, through to divorce and beyond. The reason this is imperative is that if you get it right, the rest of your life is happier and healthier.
My advice to separating partners is all about being aware of their behaviour around the separation. This is especially important if you are co-parenting the children of your relationship. Many studies and anecdotal evidence show that the way the parents conduct themselves throughout this process has a huge effect on the child. The goal with parents is to create an effective co-parenting relationship for life.
If you get it wrong from the very beginning, the situation can be unsalvageable. And seriously, you don’t want this result. I have seen it. It causes prolonged stress, anxiety and dysfunction for families. And, it can exacerbate mental health concerns for children and parents.
You and your former partner will be the parents of your children for the rest of your lives (even after they become adults). It is a long time, so you may as well set it up right from the start.
The Separation Goal
Here’s the aim: To both attend your children’s sports events, their high school or university graduations, their wedding days or any big event that children want their parents to be present for. And, your children don’t have to worry about it.
There’s more: What about the birth of a grandchild? You don’t want your child to be concerned whether either parent will be upset if the other parent comes first. No child should be anxious or worried about having their parents in the same vicinity as each other on their special day. Frankly that’s the last thing they should be feeling.
How to get there: Communicate openly and courteously. Have agreed rules and routines. Remain child-focused. Compromise. Be flexible. Put your differences aside. Respect, promote and support each other.
I talk to my clients about how to behave during the separation process in the very first meeting. Sometimes those clients have just separated, sometimes they have been separated for some time. Sometimes they haven’t separated yet but are thinking about it.
I really emphasise how they should conduct themselves around the process of separation, so that it makes it much easier for them into the future. This is the same for clients without children. It also makes for a smoother process that is more likely to reach a resolution, preventing the need for litigation.
Take Care of You
I regularly suggest to clients at their very first consultation to enlist the assistance of a psychologist. This is so they can get the support they need to work through the emotional side of the separation more effectively. This leaves them with the ability to focus on resolution. Although I like to think of myself as a very empathetic family lawyer, I simply do not have the skill set to provide adequate emotional support or guidance.
In any event, the last thing a client needs is for their lawyer to take on the role of counsellor or psychologist, or to become too emotionally involved in their matter. The lawyer will lose perspective and it can impact upon the advice given and the progression of the matter. You don’t see a dentist to fix a sore arm!
There is a lot of talk about the broken family law system, in particular Court delays and inconsistency in judicial decision-making. I believe that this can be helped with better support for separating families that is focused on conduct surrounding separation, developing effective co-parenting strategies and alternative dispute resolution (mediation).
You don’t need to go to Court if you can resolve the separation yourselves, or with the assistance of your lawyers and/ or a mediator. A good family lawyer will always try to reach a resolution first, and if they can’t by correspondence, then by mediation. I always encourage my clients to attempt mediation, prior to Court. In fact, if you have a parenting dispute then you have to attend to Family Dispute Resolution prior to commencing proceedings (unless there is a special exception as provided for in the legislation).
Simply put, Court ought to always be the place of last resort. The reason? Firstly, it costs a lot of money. As an example (fees often are higher) you could spend $5K to $10K on lawyers simply drafting your initiating application only to attend Court and have a judge tell you to go off and mediate. You will then spend $5k to $10k on mediation. If you resolve it, great, if not, you then go back to Court and spend another $50,000+ seeking an outcome. Not to mention any additional cost for an Appeal process.
The delay takes its toll
Emotionally and financially. On average a matter before the Court will take between one to two years to obtain an outcome. Unless urgent, your first Court date is around three months from filing. That date could be postponed for a number of reasons outside of your control, for example, lack of judge availability, urgent cases needing to be heard first or certain process to be undertaken first (mediation).
You then might have two to five Court dates before the matter is finally set down for hearing. Those dates could be three months apart. Your hearing when set down could be six months to over a year away, depending on how many days you need. Your judgment could be immediate, or another six months away. Then there could potentially be an Appeal process. During that time you are tied emotionally and financially to the matter and your ex-partner, making it impossible to move on with your lives.
You lose control.
On average, a judge will hear 20 or 30 cases a day. It can exceed those numbers leading into Christmas. The judges do their best to make sure that outcomes (either interim or final) are just and equitable and/or in the best interests of children. However, they do not know you and do not live your lives. They will make a decision if required, but it is unlikely to be a decision that leaves either party satisfied.
There are simply no winners in family law. By engaging in mediation first, not only are you potentially avoiding the need to incur the cost of Court proceedings, but you are taking control of the outcome and avoiding the emotional strain and delay of Court proceedings. That said, whilst the ultimate goal is to avoid having to go to Court, sometimes there is no other option but to seek judicial intervention and face the delays and expenses associated with that process – but that discussion is for another day.
There is a younger group of family law practitioners coming through, whom are much more collegiate and conciliatory. The new approach to practice means that lawyers are working more effectively with each other to help their respective clients come to a timely and cost-effective resolution. Yes, believe it or not, solicitors can still be strong advocates for their client whilst working with opposing solicitors and their respective parties.
These lawyers are picking up the telephone and discussing matters, rather than drafting pages and pages of aggressive correspondence – often which is nothing more than a diatribe of irrelevant (often self-serving) observations, horribly costly to clients and simply not conducive to the resolution of a dispute. I am hopeful that the new approach sees a reduction of matters requiring Court intervention, leading to happier and healthier separated family relationships and a less congested judicial system.
Quinn Family Law Approach
I started this firm in October last year for a good reason, and here it is. A lot of family law firms place their primary focus on billable hours and solicitor targets rather than quality of service, and I don’t think that type of practice fits with family law. It does concern me that people are paying too much for family lawyers. We are working with families, not corporate entities. There are real lives and emotions at play. Family futures. Having everything on the clock doesn’t work in that regard.
I didn’t want to be that lawyer who focuses on billables and targets, rather than their clients. I wanted to provide a high quality of representation and support for my clients. Quinn Family Law was born so I could achieve that. I am finding that our approach is not only having a positive impact on our clients, but our staff. They are happier and healthier and enjoy being free to focus on the quality of the representation provided to our clients, rather than the clock. ■
Clare Quinn has been living on the Gold Coast since the age of 5. She went to St. Hilda’s School, and comes from a family of lawyers. She attended the University of New England and then went on to study at Bond University. She has practised family law on the Gold Coast for over a decade, and now is delighted to have started her own practise. You can contact Clare on (07) 5655 4933, email firstname.lastname@example.org or log onto www.quinnfamilylaw.com.au.
After your separation is sorted out, perhaps it is time for a beer.