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Some family lawyers causing more harm than good

Some family lawyers causing more harm than good

Cassandra Pullos

A Gold Coast legal professional says some family lawyers may be creating “unrealistic expectations” and “long-term problems among separating couples” by offering catchy gimmicks instead of quality service.

Pullos Lawyers’ Cassandra Pullos (pictured) said catch phrases such as “divorce in a day” or “divorce hotels” that are commonly used by some family lawyers send the wrong message to separating couples by suggesting a quick fix remedy can resolve all of their problems.

“Divorce your partner and move on, all in a day. Out with the old and in with the new – simple consumerist rhetoric that pays no regard or respect for the complexity of human relationships. The reality is a lot more complex than that and to suggest otherwise is not only a gimmick, but dangerously misleading,” she said.

“You can’t get ‘divorced in a day’ in this country. To suggest otherwise to people unfamiliar with the law is misleading. You have to be separated for a minimum of 12 months to get a divorce (the order that ends your legal relationship of marriage).

“You can certainly sign the necessary paperwork the day after the 12 months expires – you will then be divorced on a final basis about four months later, after the court has reviewed your application and satisfied itself of the factors required in the Family Law Act and after a final ‘cooling off’ period of one month. That has been the law in Australia since 1975 – and it hasn’t changed.”

In addition, Ms Pullos said the “untangling” of a relationship, such as the dividing up of property, superannuation and financial investments, arrangements for any children and so on are issues that need proper time to digest and to suggest otherwise is wrong.

“These are life decisions that are never made in a day, at least not without the risk of later regret for hasty decisions made for emotional reasons and without proper advice,” Ms Pullos said.

“Similarly the idea of a ‘divorce hotel’ where a couple check in for a weekend and thrash out an agreement and ‘divorce’, all presupposes the two people are already in agreement on all matters. This marketing concept has been around for some years and used in other countries,” she said.

Ms Pullos said the allure of a fast decision and settlement within a day may appeal to those seeking a quick-fix solution, but the process of separation and divorce is far more complex and needs to be thought through to prevent complications later on.

“A divorce involves a process of grief and loss. The key throughout is to make informed decisions. You can’t rush to a decision then have second thoughts six months after the documents are signed,” she said.

“A divorce means you are making decisions that could be irreversible and certainly will have lifelong consequences for you, your ex-partner and your children.

“You don’t generally make a decision in a single day to get married or commit to a life together. It takes time to develop a relationship with your partner, leading to that commitment. If the relationship breaks down, it also takes time to process the emotion on a personal level so that you can make wise and informed decisions on a legal level about your children and your finances into the future.”

Ms Pullos added that while separating couples do want alternatives to a “big, long, expensive, nasty court battle in which, usually, neither side wins”, family lawyers should be offering genuine solutions.

“Those alternatives are available, mediation and collaborative practice are two of them. ‘Divorce in a day’ is not one, or at least not a safe one,” she said.

“Those genuine alternatives are respectful, future- and child-focused, problem solving approaches that also take commitment, patience and maturity from both the clients and their lawyers and other advisors. They also deliver better, positive outcomes”.

“All of these processes take time – sometimes a short time, others longer, but almost never in just one day. There’s a reason for that to ensure people make informed decisions for their future. Just like life, relationships and their endings are a journey, not a destination to be reached in a day.”

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