Horror Story: I Enjoy Working In Family Law…

Friday, September 21, 2018

I recently came to ponder my enjoyment of practicing family law, after I introduced myself to a new colleague (let’s call her Jane).  On that occasion I (rather proudly) indicated that I practiced in family law. Jane, unhesitatingly, made some rather harsh, disparaging remarks about the area of law.

Now, in Jane’s defence, she is a relatively new practitioner and she works in a difference practice area of law than I.  As a result, she may (perhaps) be a little ignorant about what a family lawyer actually does or what the area of law really entails.  But her unreserved reaction led me to think; why would anyone think that family law is a “bad” area of law to practice?  And if so, was it reasonable?

It is uncontroversial to say that family law is a funny beast. But as 2018 marks my 14th year of practising in the area, that beast is one which I have a great deal of affection for.

In 2016/2017 around 106,000 family law applications were filed in the family law courts so it is safe to assume that Jane, like most of us, knows someone (or perhaps is herself) going through a separation. But what many people (perhaps including Jane) don’t realise is that family law involves so much more than just a cursory glance at the Family Law Act to determine what happens to a family when parties separate. And that is one of the many reasons that I love practicing in this area of law.

You see; family law cases touch on so many other areas of law here in Australia. From taxation law to laws which define the status of children, from corporations’ law to domestic violence laws, the list goes on. What this means is that any family law practitioner worth their weight (or charge out rate!) must have a sound, working knowledge of how these various law may impact your case. If they do not, in my opinion, they have little hope of properly advising their clients of their rights and obligations.

From a lawyers’ point of view, the diversity of the laws which may impact on a case is an exciting aspect of being a family lawyer. What can appear at first glance to be a straight forward children’s matter, can sometimes involve complex issues about who is the actual parent. Likewise a bread and butter property settlement can also easily have complicated taxation or superannuation issues.

Additionally, many people (some lawyers included) mistakenly believe that; because certain legitimate structures such as companies or trusts, are untouchable upon a separation. If only it were that simple!

These issues, if they are not identified by your family lawyer at an early stage, can result in significant costs and expenses to you at a later date.

By way of an example, I recently represented a third party intervenor in a complex family law case. That case did not deal solely with the Family Law Act but also constructive trusts, partnerships, taxation issues and elder abuse laws. Additionally (and, in my view, interestingly) during the course of the court proceedings, an application under section 128 of the Evidence Act was made by one of the three parties.

That application sought a certificate from the court which protected a party from incriminating themselves. It turned out that the party bringing that application had forged the signature of another party to the case on documents.

Another reason I think family law is a great area to practise in is the close interaction with actual people. My clients are not a company or business, although my cases often deal with both. They are (generally speaking) normal, hardworking people. More often than not they just want to understand what the law is so that they can sort out their personal matters in a fair manner.

I am not for one minute saying that the personal aspect of family law does not lead to funny questions, sometimes in the most in inappropriate settings. A recent example occurred when I was attending a cousins wedding. On that occasion I was approached by another guest who had a “couple of questions” they wanted to ask me. Turns out that guest had discovered that I was a family lawyer and had a few “hypothetical” family law scenarios they wanted to run by me. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to provide advice at that point in time, but was able to assist at a later date!

Lastly, I love the fact that family law is an ever changing landscape. Since the creation of the Family Law Act in 1975 how we, as a nation, identify “family” has evolved. As a result, successive governments have taken steps to amend the legislations governing family law to take into account those changing views.

Two recent examples are the amendment to the Marriages Act to include same sex marriage and the Federal Government’s announcement that they will merge the Family Law Court and the Federal Circuit Court in early 2019. I, like most of my peers, eagerly await the release of more information about how the court merger will unfold and undoubtedly Quinn & Scattini will publish more information as it comes to hand.

In the meantime however, it seems logical that an even greater emphasis on the less adversarial options (such as negotiation through correspondence, private mediations or even arbitration in appropriate cases) may provide significant cost savings to clients during a period of (likely) disruption within the court system.

So, having had the benefit of a little time to reflect on Jane’s outburst, I am of the opinion that perhaps she simply opened her mouth before she really thought about what she was saying. Because if she had stopped to think about it, I have no doubt she would agree that family law is an exciting area to practice in. The way it demands a broad knowledge of other areas of law and an ability to evolve as society changes, in my opinion, means any other conclusion is just unreasonable!

How We Can Help

Quinn & Scattini Lawyers’ expert Family Law Team can assess your individual situation in accordance with the Act, provide expert guidance in negotiations with your former partner, offer practical and experienced advice if appearing before the Court is unavoidable, and provide you with the best possible representation if court-ordered agreements are required. With over 40 years’ experience, Q&S’s Family Law Team are experts in the family law field. The Team also boasts two Accredited Family Law Specialists.

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You will be talking to a real expert, local to you. You will not be treated like a file number, but as a real person, and a person going through a difficult and stressful experience. Get expert advice, not just what you want to hear, in a language you can understand not legal jargon.

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