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What is the best way to approach property settlement issues after the breakdown of a relationship?

Separation almost never places anyone in a more favourable economic position.

The effect of separation is usually results in assets needing to be divided or sold, the family is living in and maintaining two households, incomes are now kept separate and so on.

On top of this most people understand that they will need a family lawyer; and that family law services are by their nature expensive.

So what is the answer?

The good news is if you can control your emotions and manage to keep the brakes on your amygdala (the stress and anxiety emotions part of your brain), a lot can be done to reduce the cost of separating.

Here are five tips:

  1. Reconciliation Counselling – To use some clichés, perhaps you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. And prevention is better than cure. There are plenty of good counsellors out there who can assist. If the relationship can be saved that is arguably the best outcome for everyone;
  2. Stay calm – Easier said than done. Separation is an emotional process and people handle things differently. If you are struggling get help from your GP and/or a counsellor ASAP. A lot of people who don’t handle separation well can engage in destructive and self-destructive behaviours which cause breakdowns in communication and can cause the settlement process, or resolution process, to be drawn out and much more expensive;
  3. Get Good Advice – I’ve spent a lot of years working as a family lawyer in Brisbane, doing my law degree, specialist accreditation in family law and my Masters degree in family law. Family Law is not something you can Google and figure out in an afternoon. Before you and your spouse/partner start to negotiate with each other, find out from an expert in family law what the range of outcomes are. That way you have some idea what the parameters of your negotiation should be;
  4. Negotiate with each other in a business-like manner, in writing – You’ve both had advice now you can get down to brass tacks. If you’ve followed point 2 above, communication should be possible and you’ll save a fortune in not needing family lawyers bounce letters back and forth. Here I find email is best because it is in writing (which encourages people to behave) and date stamped. Please note generally settlement discussions are “without prejudice” and section 131 of the Commonwealth Evidence Act 1995 applies. This means generally settlement negotiations cannot be used in evidence in the family law property proceeding. The key here is to limit your “without prejudice” settlement communications to negotiations; and don’t mention other wider issues in the same correspondence. Please note however if the matter doesn’t settle, and reasonable offers have been rejected, after the trial the judge can consider the offers in deciding whether to make a costs order against a party.
  5. Go back to your family law lawyer – After you’ve reached an agreement, the agreement needs to be formally recorded in order to achieve a final resolution. You’ll already know this however because you will have gotten the advice first at step 3 above. The party’s family lawyers will be able to advise you what method of recording the agreement is best for you.

Sometimes when communications break down some help is required. Using your Brisbane family lawyer places a degree of separation between you and your spouse/partner if relations are strained. Mediation is also a very useful process to help people reach an agreement.

Remember, the cost of separation is not always financial. The emotional cost must also be considered and in my experience most people can only really start to heal their emotional side after their family law issues have been resolved.

Peter HooperHooper family Lawyers in Brisbane

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