Divorce Monday: Work is the first day off in weeks
Today’s the day most workers clock on for the new year.
You can almost feel the collective groaning. But at least a few of you are feeling immensely relieved.
In houses around the suburbs there are parents feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks.
For couples waging war against each other, today is their first day off.
For family lawyers, today – the first Monday of the new year back in the office – is known as Divorce Monday, the day many couples finally say enough is enough.
It’s no secret that alongside the joviality and festive spirit of December and New Year, there is considerable financial and emotional stress for some families.
There are all the presents and feasting that wreak havoc on tight budgets and trigger familiar arguments, there’s the crazy in-laws that you just can’t stand for one more minute, there’s more drinking. Everything is exaggerated and if things aren’t that great already, the criticisms and arguments can reach breaking point.
Anyone who decided to hang on for the kids until after Christmas has now made it past that deadline.
All they have to do this month is organise new uniforms, get the book lists sorted and find a divorce lawyer.
It’s not the sexiest new year’s resolution but for many it’s the clearest option.
A recent UK survey of 500 divorcing couples found that a quarter of them had made the decision earlier but held off until the New Year to follow through.
If you are one of those, this can be a liberating time, but it is important to remain clear headed and carefully plan the action you take next. What you do now will affect how your relationship breakdown unfolds, how it will impact on your kids and how much money it will cost you.
Misplaced grenades can make the stress of Christmas feel like a walk in the park and the decision to leave could seem like the easy part.
By its own admission the Family Court is in crisis with matters taking years to work their way through the system and resolve – and both sides paying horrendous legal bill the whole way through.
You may have never been to court in your life, let alone had to call a lawyer. Even the thought of it can take the wind out of your sails. Nasty letters or emails to your ex – from a lawyer – can be treated as an act of war.
There are legal aspects of your relationship breakdown that a lawyer can help with and perhaps the most important decision you can make early on is to get sensible and realistic advice about your rights and responsibilities under family law.
Lawyers usually work on a time-costing basis (that is, you pay for their time, not the results they achieve) and will usually charge for your first consultation.
Be alert not alarmed.
Many lawyers love a fight – they look for the differences, the points of dispute and think of the arguments they can put forward to get a better deal. Lawyers and the courts are at their essence adversarial.
But family law must be treated differently and not all family lawyers are the same. Look for someone who will work with you to find a solution, someone who talks about resolving the issues rather than winners and losers. Find someone prepared to listen to your whole story – sometimes the things most important to you are not legal issues but will have a big impact on your family.
Ask for a quote or a fixed price. It can be done.
And do whatever you can to stay out of court.
Even the Family Court doesn’t want you there and there are processes built into family law that help separated couples resolve issues through mediation, negotiation, arbitration or counselling.
You can pre-empt that by talking to a mediator – like lawyers there are many of them and different ways of mediating. Some, Such as Relationships Australia, have long waiting lists but are much cheaper. A solutions-focussed mediator will talk to you and your ex independently before meeting you both. It’s short and sharp and sometimes painful, but its private, it’s a fixed price – and it’s short and sharp. Effective mediation can resolve your issues in weeks rather the months and years you will face in court.
The people you talk to – both professional and personal – will have a big impact on how your matter unfolds and the consequences may be felt for months down the track.
Have some good listeners around, friends and family who will let you unload. But your family law matter is unique and what happened to your next-door neighbour or cousin isn’t necessarily what will happen to you. Even the most well-intentioned advice over the fence should be balanced with independent and sensible legal advice.
Beware the Go-for-the-Jugular lawyers; be wary of friends who take a position, who talk about rights and wrongs done, who advise you to fight for everything. Rushing to your defence makes them loyal friends but heeding their advice, could be backing you into a corner that has you fighting and scratching to get out. You are the one living through this and the more conflict you can avoid the smoother the transition will be for everyone.
Separation is always a big change and will inevitably impact on your extended family and friends.
Your children will always have two parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Think about how you are going to interact with all of them – including your ex. You can’t control how other people react but you can control what you do now. In almost every case, it’s better not to send THAT text message. You can think it, but don’t send it.
Think of your New Year’s resolution as not just splitting up, but doing it in a way that maintains your dignity, keeps your kids and you emotionally healthy and sets you up for a positive, conflict-free future. Arguing over five or 10 per cent now will quickly get gobbled up in fees the longer your principles take precedence over common sense.
People break up all the time. Lives don’t have to be destroyed, lawyers’ pockets don’t have to be lined with silver. Next year your resolutions can be all the usual stuff – diet, booze, exercise.