22 June 2018

Why is the silly season also the season many couples call it quits?

| Jenni Rowland
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finger depictions of a couple fighting over a house

Is ’tis the season to be brawly? Legal experts de-bunk the myths about legal separation.

Not everyone enjoys the Christmas period. There is the added financial pressure of gift giving and the often-self-imposed expectation of creating a meal and occasion for your family that is gluten-free, fat-free, nut-free and Instagram worthy. If this isn’t enough to test your limits, there is also the prospect of spending time with relatives that make you cringe. All of this can challenge even the most diehard fan of the festive season.

A 2014 survey by Relationships Australia of over 1290 people found that around one-third of respondents claimed that their family relationships were adversely affected at Christmas time due to work-life balance, unrealistic expectations, and financial worries. A high portion of participants reported negative effects on family relationships due to spending time with the extended family, including the in-laws (37%).

The festive season can often be the trigger for relationship breakdowns. Added to this is the pressure to follow through on new year resolutions that frequently fall by the wayside after a few weeks. Throw alcohol into the mix, and it is no surprise that the first week of January is the peak time for couples to separate and seek legal advice according to Tanya Nadin, a leading family law expert from Baker, Deane & Nutt.

Tanya Nadin, leading family law expert from Baker, Deane & Nutt. Photo: Supplied.

Tanya Nadin – leading family law expert from Baker, Deane & Nutt. Photo: Supplied.

It is essential to have a reality check before you burn any bridges. The best investment you can make for your future is good quality legal advice. It is not the time to google or rely on your friend’s experience from when they divorced ten years ago. Don’t let your finances deter you from having a professional consultation and obtaining guidance that is specific to your situation. Often family lawyers will allow you to pay when your matter is finalised. The feedback may not always be what you want to hear, but it could save you time and money chasing an unrealistic property settlement.

Firstly, Tanya advises that you need to take stock of your assets. As part of a settlement agreement, the Family Law Court most commonly looks at what is called the ‘global asset pool’ which means all assets (and liabilities) that the couple owns. You need to obtain accurate figures to establish the value of property, shares, vehicles and everything else. Tanya says many people assume that superannuation is off limits, but that is often not the case.

When there are children involved, it is also important not to assume that most couples get shared 50% custody. Tanya advises that no two divorce settlements are the same. The court takes into account many factors when deciding on the property distribution and the most appropriate custody arrangements for the children. Factors may include the length of the marriage, the financial contribution of both parties and who has been the primary caregiver.

When you do have your first consultation, it is essential to disclose the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’ve siphoned off 50K to an offshore bank account, it won’t go unnoticed. Your lawyer can only achieve the best possible outcome for you if there is full disclosure.

Tanya advises that you start by getting your paperwork together ­– current assets, bank statements, share certificates, mortgage statements, superannuation balances and anything else that is relevant. Don’t leave anything out. If there are issues regarding custody of children such as one parent not returning the child as agreed, it is best to advise your lawyer promptly as you will achieve a better court outcome if you do.

While it may seem tempting to sell off assets and destroy documentation, it will count against you in the long run. Tanya recommends that where possible, one of the parties retain the family home. Take some time to think about what you consider the best-case scenario to be. If you can, estimate what the global asset pool will be after taking into account all liabilities. If a fifty percent share is 200K, then you will need to manage your expectations about where you foresee yourself living in the future.

Finally, Tanya advises to try and keep emotion out of it. Avoid the temptation to vent with family or friends and most importantly on social media- it can and will go against you. The first few months after separation are challenging to say the least but the adage that time heals all wounds remains as accurate today as it always has. Eventually, the whole experience will be behind you.

As much as we hope that you won’t require the services of a lawyer due to relationship breakdown, Tanya and the team of Baker, Dean & Nutt are available from January 2nd, 2018.

This is a sponsored article, though all opinions are the author’s own. For more information on paid content, see our sponsored content policy.

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