Over almost twenty five years as a family lawyer, I have seen the damaging effects on clients of going through a property settlement in the Family Court of Australia. Most clients find it hard to understand why there are huge delays in dealing with these matters. Unfortunately the situation is not changing due to lack of funding, too few judges, and the outdated processes involved in finalising a property division. The court is now so clogged up with applications that it is taking some cases years to be heard.
Not what you want to hear if you are considering separating from your partner? But there is a simpler, easier, more economical and far less stressful way of finalising a family law property settlement. All it takes is a sensible discussion between the separating parties as to how assets should be divided (or a mediation if the discussion is likely to get heated), then give instructions to a lawyer to draw the relevant Binding Financial Agreement. There is no need for each party to instruct separate lawyers – if there is complete agreement, there is no conflict of interest.
My “light bulb moment” as to how the process of a property division could be simplified came to me a number of years ago. I began to understand that the process of a property settlement had become outdated because many clients now wished to make their own decisions (instead of a judge) and they did not want to go through the long process of making applications to the court and providing reams of documents (when they each knew what their assets were) because there was no dispute as to how these assets were to be divided.
With the current practice, each client instructs separate lawyers to represent them. It was my experience (and I am sure most colleagues would agree) that I would take on board about 50% of what my client told me. The client was always the hardest worker, did the most housework, saved the most money, spent more time with the children, should get the lion’s share of the assets etc. etc. The problem was that the other partner would give similar instructions to their lawyer! The result was that both lawyers were given opposing instructions – and acted accordingly. Over the years I have received some ill-constructed (and sometimes quite rude) correspondence from the opposing lawyer indicating how wonderful their client was, and how bad my client had behaved during the relationship – all without knowing the entire story! This of course is destructive to any attempt to resolve the matter as it puts the clients offside immediately, and can cause further conflict between them!
One doesn’t have to be a genius to guess the outcome of this scenario – two lawyers going in different directions equals soaring legal costs for clients who really wanted an amicable result, but suddenly finding a chunk of their assets going into the lawyers’ pockets (was this the real agenda?). Unfortunately, my long experience has demonstrated that there are a band of family lawyers who over many years have given the rest of the profession an unsavoury reputation as “rip off merchants”, making clients cautious as to where they can receive reputable professional advice. Many turn to “Do it Yourself” practices and attempting (usually unsuccessfully) to draft their own documents and manage their own property division, taking up more valuable court time.
I became tired of these “games” and gave some deep thought as to how I could continue to work in the area that I enjoyed, but provide a much better service to my clients, and I put my “light bulb moment” into practice seven years ago when I commenced my Online Divorce Lawyer practice. The factors that influenced me were
- the Family Law Act is a Federal Act so the same legislation applies throughout Australia;
- Binding Financial Agreements came into effect – these documents did not require the approval of the court so no delays of 4-6 + weeks to finalise the settlement;
- there was an increase of clients who came to me requesting me to act for both of them because they were in complete agreement as to their settlement – this is a huge niche market;
- we are now in the Digital Age and should be taking advantage of the benefits this can bring to our practices.
I now have a national family law practice with clients in most States. The benefits to clients are that they can have their property settlement finalised in a few months (I only act for clients who are agreeable on their property split), they are charged a fixed fee so they know upfront what their costs will be, they retain more money in their pockets for themselves and their children, they don’t have to take time off work, or out of their business, for conferences with me (we use Skype), the process is much less stressful. Some of the benefits I enjoy is that I work with clients who can agree on their settlement, I work in my own hours, I’m now semi retired, I am definitely less stressed!
Shortly I will be launching a membership website where I will show other like-minded family lawyers how they can build a national practice like mine. Together perhaps we can keep more clients out of the Family Court and so improve the system for those who must litigate.
Lyn Lucas is the owner of Online Divorce Lawyer. With almost 25 years experience in family law Lyn empathises with couples going through a separation and a property settlement. Her focus with Online Divorce Lawyer is to reduce the pain and deliver excellent results in the process of a property settlement, her mission is to keep clients out of the Family Court. With a negotiated fixed fee for this service, couples have certainty as to their legal costs. Visit Lyn’s site and opt in for a complimentary e-book “Guide to Saving Money with a Divorce Property Settlement”