What do you do once you’ve reached a financial agreement with your ex?
I’ve jumped on today to share a story about a couple that I recently spoke with. This couple had reached agreement as to their financial matters, were completely amicable and wanted to know what they needed to do next. These two just needed to know what their next step should be, but their approach meant a little bit of confusion when it came to engaging me to assist. Below I have shared the things I wish all couples knew right after they’ve reached their property settlement agreement…
Document, Document, Document
The end goal of any family law matter- whether it’s been ongoing for a while or whether you reach agreement right away, is that the agreement needs to be formalised. Property settlement agreements are formalised into a series of documents, these documents aim to be binding, enforceable, clear and ultimately will bring an end to the financial relationship between the two of you.
At this step you might hear terms such as ‘Consent Orders’, ‘Financial Agreements’ and ‘Child Support Agreements’, and these can be really big concepts to wrap your head around. Different lawyers will have different preferences but today I’ll talk you through my process in drafting Applications for Consent Orders and how I make couples feel comfortable that their document is going to serve the purposes they want, not bring about any extra conflict between them and can be done in the most cost-effective way possible.
A Consent Order means that an Order has been made by the Court after a couple has asked the Court to make it, a Consent Order is just as binding and enforceable as if you went through the entire Court process (and spent tens of thousands of dollars and many years too). A couple can reach agreement, document their agreement and write in to the Court and ask the Court to return their agreement ‘sealed’ therefore making it binding and enforceable.
A Lawyer Can Help
The Application for Consent Order document (and accompanying proposed Orders) can be drafted without the assistance of a lawyer, but the impact of and the advantages and disadvantages of these documents are significant, so, asking a lawyer for help is really important in my view. A lawyer can also help you make sure that the language used is binding, enforceable and clear.
All of this means that one of the first steps after you’ve reached agreement is that either one of you or both of you should contact a lawyer. You should tell the lawyer in your initial enquiry that you’re amicable and you’re really just looking for someone to help you make it official. Importantly, the lawyer won’t be able to act for both of you, even though you’re both on the same page and getting along really well. A lot of couples come to me and they both want to speak to me, but that’s just not possible under lawyers’ professional obligations. Because of this, your options are that one of you see a lawyer or both of you see separate lawyers. If only one of you engages a lawyer, they will only be acting for that person.
You’ve Engaged a Lawyer
A good family lawyer will have it in mind that their client doesn’t want things to turn to conflict and get out of hand, so they’ll make sure that all communications reflect these goals and the process is kept as calm as can be. A lawyer also has an obligation not to be deceitful to another party in a matter, so if only one of you sees a lawyer, that lawyer will do their best to make sure that the other of you understands what’s going on. This lawyer can’t give the other person advice though so if both of you want to make sure that you completely understand the process and the documents are being drafted in both of your best interests, it’s a good idea to see two lawyers separately.
The Nitty Gritty
The process for obtaining Consent Orders is that a lawyer will need to gather a bunch of information from you both, this is information to help the lawyer understand your financial circumstances. Your lawyer will also ask for each of your understandings of the agreement you reached in your own words.
The lawyer will then go away and draft, this might take them a few weeks as it’s their job to make sure everything is binding, enforceable, clear and concise. You will both then have the opportunity to review these documents, the lawyer will ask you to confirm that their understanding is correct and to confirm that all the information they’ve put in your documents is accurate. If you have both engaged lawyers, this is the time where the documents will go to the second lawyer for them to review.
A good family lawyer will take instructions from a client that they’ve reached agreement amicably, seriously. Two people that have reached agreement have worked incredibly hard to do so even if they did so quickly or without the help of lawyers, so a family lawyer shouldn’t try to interfere with that unnecessarily. Most importantly, engaging a lawyer upon you reaching agreement, to help you make things official, doesn’t mean that it has to create conflict.