Following on from my first excerpt about the ‘Emotional Struggle of Separation – Grief’, this week I’m writing about what daily life looks like after separation. These are my thoughts from a family lawyer’s personal perspective. They may not be any other family lawyer’s thoughts or opinions.
What does daily life look like after separation?
As a family lawyer, we see our clients in one of the most vulnerable stages of their life. A life they did not expect, and possibly did not want. The life they had yesterday is not the life they have today or tomorrow. Change!
What are ‘some’ of the changes that can occur on separation?
- Children have two (2) homes
- Children are withheld from one parent
- Household expenses aren’t shared
- Incomes are banked into different accounts
- Maintenance and upkeep of the home becomes one party’s responsibility
- There are new partners and blended families
- Children may need assistance coping with the separation
- Children are involved in the adult dispute
- The home needs to be sold
- How much child support is paid
How do we as lawyers manage those clients? What advice can or do we give? Is it our job to make them ‘feel better’? Can we reassure them that it’s going to be okay?
A patient goes to a doctor for medical advice. Clients come to us for legal advice. The challenge as I see it, is to balance the overarching obligation to provide legal advice with the desire to provide a certain level of empathy. As I said, we see our clients when they are most vulnerable and there is no reason we shouldn’t treat them with kindness, like we would any other person we might meet in our journey.
The key for young family lawyers and perhaps senior practitioners, is to refrain from feeling sorry for a client or becoming emotionally involved. If I had to see a lawyer after separation, what would I want to hear. What advice do I need? Well, the first piece of advice is to ‘stop and breathe’. Take a big breath in and sigh (which I am very good at and tend to do many times a day).
From my separation came the gift of ‘the toolbox’. I don’t need to share my personal details with a client when giving advice, but I can reach into ‘the toolbox’ with options and possible solutions. It gives me the ability to challenge a client to think outside the box. Combine the law with practical solutions that can work. Each matter is unique and life after separation is different for each family.
If I can share one option or tool from my ‘toolbox’ it would be to use an existing joint account to meet the children’s expenses. This set up allows parents to avoid the child support agency. Having said that however, this does require parents to be amicable to some extent and have some level of trust between them. Estimate the children’s annual expenses and divide it by two (2). Work out the amount each parent deposits into the joint account monthly which is then used for agreed child related expenses.