Sunday, 21 February 2016

How to Speak when your Family Lawyer is Listening

The Australian Institute for Family Studies (“AIFS”) has just recently released its report (  into the 2012 changes to the Family Law system that brought in, amongst other things, more of a focus on family violence in the family law area, as well as ‘screening’ for family violence in all cases.

Despite these changes, a significant proportion of those involved in family law disputes, or even in families that never enter the formal family law system of mediation, lawyers and Court, did not report family violence or safety concerns that they held.

In 2014, it was found that 38% of parents holding either family violence or safety concerns did not report those concerns to lawyers or Court officers; a very considerable 46% of parents involved in family dispute resolution / mediation did not report their safety or family violence concerns.

This type of information is sure to give family lawyers pause and should cause them to rethink how and how often they are asking their clients whether they have safety concerns.

This is a very real and concerning issue for lawyers, as a failure for a client to disclose that they are fearful, and potentially intimidated, may compromise a client’s ability to give instructions or make good decisions.

For clients, this revelation opens a discussion of a common practice I see day to day – where clients decide that they are going to hold back some information from their lawyers for one reason or another.

In situations where family violence has been a factor or concern, this is often out of embarrassment, shyness, a feeling of some sort of shame at having lived through such a situation, or refusal to believe that this type of thing would happen to you.

This affects people coming out of relationship no matter their gender.

Whilst these are understandable reactions, withholding information from your lawyer puts you at a disadvantage because you cannot prepare yourself, or take remedial action to address the issues that may be of concern.

Your lawyer is left fighting with one arm tied behind their back.

Additionally, if actions are taken without these concerning issues being raised at an early stage, Courts and lawyers will often regard later disclosures by you with a great deal of scepticism, thinking that the information is only coming out at a stage when it can be used to delay proceedings rather than for a genuine safety reason.

Whilst it may be confronting and difficult to raise issues of family violence or abuse from a relationship, your lawyer will have heard these issues, and unfortunately much worse, in their career, and you should find a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable raising and discussing these issues so you are prepared and on the front foot.

Call our senior lawyer Richard Hamilton or accredited specialised Elizabeth Hall on 03 9614 7111 or email to discuss your situation in an obligation-free call and get a better understanding of how the family law would take into account your particular circumstances and history.

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