Lawyers specialising in family law are set to have their hands full this month, with January traditionally seeing an influx of divorce actions, according to a Brisbane-based law firm.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Hetherington Legal family law specialist Jennifer Hetherington (pictured) said yesterday marked the first working Monday in January, signalling a “flood” of divorce actions after Christmas.
“We have the same experience as UK lawyers, with a marked rise in inquiries and instructions from clients who want to start the new year separate from their partner,” Ms Hetherington said.
“Pressures building over the holiday period contribute to this, especially financial pressures. In the UK, surveys indicate 40 per cent of separating couples cite financial pressure."
However, Ms Hetherington said couples who are on the verge of separating need to be properly advised, to avoid any rash decisions.
“January can be a crazy time, so it’s crucial couples contemplating a separation should first get legal and, if necessary, financial advice before they make life-changing decisions,” she said.
“I have had clients who have decided to get back together and work on the marriage, when they realise the picture they face. Divorce has a huge financial impact on a family.”
Ms Hetherington added that if couples understand that they may not see their children for a week or more at a time, they may end up rethinking their decision to separate.
“Once a decision to separate is made and conveyed to the spouse, it can be hard to take it back,” she noted.
Ms Hetherington had some key advice for couples who are looking to call time on their marriage this holiday season.
“Obtaining advice before you communicate your decision leaves the door open to stay in the marriage, if the advice shows you could have a difficult future,” she said.
“And by ‘advice’ I don’t mean family, friends and Facebook pages. There are community legal centres available offering free advice for those who cannot afford it, but many lawyers offer fixed-fee initial meetings so you can make an informed decision about your future. It also enables you to find out about options to finalise the legal aspects of your separation without conflict. Look for a trained collaborative lawyer, committed to keeping you out of court.
“If your spouse suggests counselling, don’t be an ‘ostrich’, or dismissive of the issues raised. Take it as a sign that there are serious issues to discuss but your spouse is committed to trying to work through them. I have had countless clients whose spouses refused to go to counselling. Ask yourself if it is worth losing your marriage and your family before you refuse to go to counselling.
“Above all, keep the kids out of it and if you are committed to separating, use collaborative law to minimise the impact on finances and children, rather than the adversarial method of conventional divorce.”