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Should I meet with my Ex and a Lawyer?

Tama sounded defensive the moment I answered his call to me. He and his ex, Amy, had separated 6 months ago. Tama didn’t have a lawyer and Amy had recently suggested he call me to talk about their options for sorting out the parenting arrangements for their three children. “Do I need my own lawyer?” he asked. After talking a while, he shared that he was worried that Amy had spoken with me and that I was going to be “on her side” if we had a discussion together.

Amy had called me a couple of weeks earlier. She wanted to sort out the parenting arrangements between her and Tama as amicably as possible. She didn’t want their kids going through what experienced when her parents acrimoniously divorced. She hoped she and Tama could come to clear arrangements that gave the children certainty about what was happening and ensured the children had strong relationships with each of them. We talked through some different processes that exist to help them reach agreements without going to Court. We talked about how I could mediate for her and Tama or be her Collaborative Lawyer in a Collaborative Process. She hoped that Tama would agree to meet with me so that I could help them mediate an agreement quickly, cost effectively and in a way that supported their future co-parenting of the children.

Meanwhile, Ruby had agreed to meet with me and her ex Jamie. Jamie had suggested to her that they come along for a “Savvy Separation Consultation” with me to try to land on a plan for how they would work out the financial issues after their separation. I called her before our scheduled meeting to check in with her. Ruby told me she was worried that Jamie was trying to cook up a plan that would see her get less than she was entitled to and that was why he was organising this meeting with me!

Jamie and I had spoken by phone a few days before my call with Ruby. He had reached out to me because he was worried about sorting out the property and financial issues in their separation as simply and as amicably as possible. He told me he was unsure about calling a lawyer because he thought it may “blow things up” and that things may become inflamed. He wanted to make sure Ruby would be OK financially but also wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting the rough end of the deal at the same time. He told me he had previously divorced and that the lawyers’ letters had been horrible and the whole process had been expensive and far from amicable. He wanted to avoid all that.

I can see why Tama, Amy, Ruby and Jamie each felt as they did. Their concerns and worries are understandable and very normal. When a separation occurs, high emotion is often coupled with a breakdown in trust and communication. It’s the perfect environment for fear, suspicion, and conflict to grow with each person being fearful they are going to be taken advantage of and get the bad end of the deal. Friends and family may be in the background telling you to “lawyer up”.

Given this, why would you agree to meet or chat with a lawyer your ex has contacted? Well, you shouldn't without being very clear about the purpose of the discussion and the role of that lawyer when they are meeting with you or talking with you. In my practice, information or process consultations that I have with both parties (I call them savvy separation consultations) are done in the following way:

  • I do not meet with you together if either of you has a lawyer unless the other lawyers have agreed to this.

  • I am not meeting you as the lawyer for either of you! I am not the lawyer for one person or the other. I am not providing legal advice during the consultation. I am not there to be on “the side” of one and not the other. I am on the side of you both finding a safe, least intrusive and most respectful way to move forward. I am being jointly engaged by you both for the limited purpose of assisting you to identify your next steps and to select a resolution process that best meets their needs.

  • My meeting with you is for a “no obligations” discussion. You are not obligated to use my services further.

  • I am there to find out what is important to each of you moving forward and to explore what scope there is for you to work together to reach agreements. I’m also starting to identify if there are any ‘red flags’ that mean mediation or Collaborative Process may not be suitable for your situation or if you need the urgent assistance of a lawyer or other professional straight away.

  • During the discussion, I provide general information about the different processes that can assist you both to resolve your parenting, financial and/or legal issues in a supported, safe and respectful way. Think of the role a little like the GPS in your car. I help you navigate through the different possible pathways to getting to your end destination of an agreement. I help you agree on a pathway or plan for progressing forward. That pathway could see you engage me as your mediator or go on to be referred by me to separate lawyers to help you in the resolution process of their choice.

There are benefits for you and your ex if you are able to meet with a lawyer, mediator or conflict resolution process in this way:

You are giving yourself the chance to make informed decisions about your next steps. Do you attempt mediation? Do you have lawyers negotiate things for you? Do you use Court? Do you use Collaborative Process? Do you have a lawyer write to the other person’s lawyer? Do you listen to your friend who is urging you to use their shark of a lawyer?

It can feel confusing and unclear what to do. Meeting for a session in this way allows you to get information about the different options and to make a properly informed and clear decision about your next steps. Importantly, it helps you do this together so you avoid the cost, time and frustration that can occur when one of you heads down one pathway only to learn the other person is heading off on an entirely different approach.

You are allowing yourself the opportunity to learn more about yourself and the other person. Why is this important? Because it can open up the possibility of reaching understandings with one another. It can give you insights into how you communicate and react to conflict which can be invaluable when you have future times when you are not on the same page about an issue. In doing this, it can make for a more efficient and cost effective approach to resolving things.

You are giving yourselves the opportunity to minimise conflict, costs and stress. By meeting in this way, you have an opportunity to both set out on an agreed resolution process. You are equipped with the right supports and approaches to suit you, your family and your goals for how you want to move through the separation or resolve the issue that has brought you to me. If you are not on the same page about this, a lot of time, emotional energy and money can be unnecessarily spent as you each find yourselves pulling against one another like a "pushme-pullyou".

You get to retain control over decisions made about the future of you and your family. Agreeing on the how you will work together to reach agreements gives you the opportunity to retain control together over the decisions made about your family. If you head to Court or arbitration, those decisions are made for you. By being able to sit down and choose a different process, you retain the ability to make the important decisions for your future.

What happened for Taima, Amy, Ruby and Jamie?

Well, as Tama and I talked, he relaxed more. He agreed to meet with me to discuss mediation further. I gave him the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. Ultimately, I mediated a parenting agreement with him and Amy. In our last meeting together, Tama said he was relieved that Amy had got him to call me and that they hadn’t ended up with “lawyers fighting it out” about their precious children.

Ruby and Jamie did come to see me for their Savvy Separation Consultation. We whiteboarded different options for negotiating an agreement and assessed them carefully, being mindful of what was important to them about how they negotiated together and the people they wanted to be able to later say they were during this time. They decided to use the Collaborative Process. Interestingly, it was Ruby who asked if she could use me as her Collaborative lawyer! Jamie agreed to this and, because of how the information consultation with them both had been conducted, I did not have a conflict of interest in doing this. I wouldn’t have agreed to be a lawyer for either of them otherwise. Jamie was given introductions to some local Collaborative lawyers and both were able to compromise to reach a comprehensive property agreement after a couple of Collaborative meetings.

Think you may also want to get on the same page early on about how to avoid Court and reach agreement without feeling you are getting the raw end of the deal? Don't hesitate to reach out for a free, no obligation, initial chat with us.

Names and any identifying information have been altered to protect the privacy of individuals. The information in this blog is current at 1 August 2022. The information in this blog is general, educative information only. As such, it should not be relied on in place of getting your own legal advice. If you'd like to have us assist you to work through your separation as amicably as possible, then book a free consultation now.

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