I often hear people say: “It’s cruel what the family law system does to people.’’
One of the most concerning features of family law is the absurd financial and emotional cost of going to court. We have all heard about the family who’ve spent a fortune, lost years of their lives, damaged their family and their mental health while they battle it out in court.
A woman in a family law case a few years ago detailed her experience of family law litigation, sometimes receiving up to five letters a day, including on weekends, from her ex-husband’s lawyer. Apparently, “the letters were sometimes angry, [allegedly] threatening, inflammatory and accusatory.” To stand a chance the woman felt she had no choice but to pay her lawyers to read and respond to each one of these letters.
Meanwhile, their legal costs ran into the millions; more than the family’s assets were worth.
Surely this scenario raises more than a few ethical issues. What is our role as Family Law professionals to help our clients resolve their issues expediently and charge reasonably? What does the law tell us about the best interests of children? What does social science tell us about the traumatic impact of conflict on them? What does our financial planner tell us about blowing all our cash? What are we doing, as professionals, to meaningfully help families transition through separation?
Estimates show that approximately one half of all those in relationships will separate and of those, about one half of the time children are involved. It is surely a no-brainer that we should try and to keep families out of court where possible and save them the trauma as well as a potentially enormous financial cost in doing so.
There is a better way.
Encouraging separating couples to work together to sort out their financial and parenting arrangements is something collaborative professional teams (think lawyers, mental health professionals, financial planners, and advisors) do all the time. For some families, separation can be extremely distressing, and some family members may need lots of support and guidance. Supporting and guiding them is part of our job. Ultimately, the aim is to help the family transition through the changes separation brings and come out the other side with their financial and parenting arrangements agreed and documented; to help them rebuild and become the people (and parents) they want to be.
By Mary Louise Hatch. Accredited Mediator, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and Collaborative Family Lawyer.