Family lawyer and principal in the relationships team at Cavell Leitch, AMANDA FITZGIBBON explains the process of separation and how an experienced family lawyer can guide you and take some of the stress away.
When should I get a lawyer?
An experienced family lawyer will ensure you get the best advice for your circumstances. We can assist at any stage, including if you have already separated. If you get advice before separating, it means you are making a decision with full knowledge of what may happen and your options.
What will my lawyer help me with?
You’ll get as little or as much as you need: from an initial chat and giving advice and options to guiding you through negotiation or court proceedings. It is our job to take some of the stress away when you are going through an extremely emotional process.
What is the risk if I don’t use a lawyer?
Property – not getting what you are entitled to and not understanding your rights. The law in this area is complicated, and remedies depend on your circumstances.
Parenting – not understanding the process and options. It is important to understand options early on so you can achieve good outcomes for your family.
What will happen with the care of my children?
It is important to find a lawyer you trust to help you through the process. At Cavell Leitch, we guide clients through what is one of the hardest times in their lives. Whether it’s the separation of assets or trying to navigate how to share children, we are here to help and guide you.
In non-urgent cases
This depends. You and your ex-partner can come to an agreement and, if need be, have this turned into an order by consent in the Family Court. You may decide on a 50/50 split, which can look different for different families: a 7/7 or a 2,2,5,5 split are two of the most common equal shared-care arrangements.
If you do not agree, the Family Disputes Resolution service will need to be used. A third-party (mediator) will assist you in trying to reach an agreement in the best interests of your child/ren. Lawyers do not attend the mediation but can assist you in the background.
Court proceedings need to be carefully considered, as these will expose your child/ren to your disagreement. A lawyer for your child/ren will usually be appointed. A lawyer can assist you with your applications to court and then guide you through the process and, ultimately, a court hearing where a judge will make the decision.
In urgent matters or where there is a risk of family violence
It is really important to see a lawyer. Applications can be made to protect you and your children from all forms of family harm.
What about my property and assets?
In New Zealand, if you have been with your partner for three years or more (there are some exceptions) and have property that constitutes relationship property, you will likely need to divide property on separation. For a separation agreement to be valid, there are certain requirements to comply with, and you will need to see a lawyer.
What if I can’t afford legal help?
There are options available such as legal aid, Community Law centres and firms that offer fixed fees. The Ministry of Justice also offers very helpful information at justice.govt.nz/family/separation-divorce.