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What to expect at your first free appointment.

Podcast Episode by Pearsons Lawyers
17 October 2020

(Transcription)

Joe Schepis:
Hi, my name is Joe Schepis from Pearsons Lawyers.

Leanne Abela:
I’m Leanne Abela.

Joe Schepis:
And welcome to the second podcast in our series. And today we’re going to talk about what happens at the first interview. Now, Leanne and I both been practicing in family law for about 35 years each. And although we do the same thing day in, day out, and we probably see anywhere between five to 10 new clients each a week, we have a different way of going about the first interview to get the same information and give essentially the same sort of advice.

Leanne Abela:
Yeah mine’s better. Isn’t it Joe?

Joe Schepis:
Much better. Yours is always much better than mine Leanne.

Leanne Abela:
Just checking. All we want you to know is that it’s not like going to the dentist. We are so much nicer. And what that means is it’s not very painful and it’s all going to be fine. And of particular assistance is that we provide our clients when they make the booking with a list of the questions that we’re going to ask. You don’t need to fill out the responses. It’s just to turn your mind to the sort of questions that’ll be asked so that nothing’s taken as a surprise.

Joe Schepis:
So the sorts of things we ask are how old you are, your employment, your income, whether there are any health issues, the same sort of questions for your partner or spouse when the relationship started. And that can sometimes lead to a number of questions in itself, when the relationship ended, the children of the relationship and some background information about the relationship.

Leanne Abela:
All of the questions that we ask are relevant. We don’t ask these questions because we’re stickybeaks. Although we do take a lot of interest in our client’s story and we just love it. But every question we ask leads us to the end result because they’re all relevant factors in family law. And just on that topic, Joe, of what is a relationship or when did you start your domestic relationship? Some people think it’s the day you got married, but these days, unlike when you and I first got married, Joe, many long, many, many years ago, many people live together before they’re married. And most people forget to fill in that box or they fill in that box saying when they started dating, or when they first had sex, or when they gave each other their first rose. It really is when did you start living in a domestic relationship? And so often we’ve got to unpack that and test that with the clients.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah. Definitely. And, like you say, Leanne, most clients have a different definition of when the relationship started. And sometimes what our clients say the relationship started, the date that it started is not necessarily the same as what the other party thinks. And the court is taken up a lot of time in court investigating just that issue. But it’s important for us to know, at least from our client’s perspective, when the relationship started as far as the family act is concerned.

Leanne Abela:
Now, I don’t know about you, Joe, but I always like to start off, once I’ve got the information on the children and their ages, I always like to start off with dealing with the children. I guess that’s so you can know how that’s going to feed into a property settlement. But I often think that people really want to get that off their chest first. They really do care about the children’s aspect of their case first, rather than the money, or it is more important to them than the money. And so I like to flesh that out first. Is that what you do?

Joe Schepis:
Oh no, I’m the same. I deal with the parenting issues and the children’s issues first to see where they’re children going to live. What arrangements are made for them to spend time with the other parent, and in particular, what child support arrangements are made. And I have tell my clients that if they’re not sure about the child support arrangements, they can access the child support estimator on the website to get an idea of what that might be. And once I’ve got a good handle on how the parenting issues are going to pan out or are likely to pan out… Sometimes clients don’t know, and that’s something that needs to be sorted out. Then I go on to talk about the financial side.

Leanne Abela:
But we can always give them suggestions.

Leanne Abela:
So often by the time when they ring us, they haven’t separated physically. They’re still under the same roof or they’re thinking about separating. And we just explain to them that you need to think about who the kids are going to live with primarily, or are they going to with both of you? Are they going to stay at the same school? If so, who’s going to pay for the school. particularly if they’re private school fees. What are the considerations you need to take into account? You may want them 50% of the time or all of the time, but how will that work with your employment? Will you be able to get to work on time? Will you be able to pick them up from school? How does it work now? Are grandparents involved in the care. Just exploring and unpacking all of that. And if the clients want to, we can make some suggestions because of the many cases that we’ve dealt with over the decades that we’ve been practicing, we can come up with some solutions that are creative, a bit left of field, and tell you what will work and will not work. So that’s useful.

Joe Schepis:
And also… Yeah, of course. And also we send clients off to mediation and there’s many avenues of mediation. There’s personal mediation, private mediations, or you can go to local government mediation centers and explore parenting issues with the assistance of a qualified mediator.

Leanne Abela:
And that’s quite inexpensive.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah.

Leanne Abela:
So after the kids and the child support, what do you move on to your next, Joe?

Joe Schepis:
I then explain to the clients that I’m going to ask them for some information about the history of the financial sides and or balance sheet and explain to them, just very briefly, the four step process. And then I start off by asking them what they had at the beginning of the relationship, what they each contributed financially, what contributions were made from outside sources during the relationship to see if there’s any financial assistance from parents, or windfalls, compensation payouts, tax lotto winnings, those sorts of things. Then I do a balance sheet to work out what property is there to date to be valued and to be divided.

Leanne Abela:
That’s real estate, houses, land, super, savings.

Joe Schepis:
Real estate, shares, businesses, super. And sometimes my clients don’t know. Sometimes they’re able to identify some property, and sometimes they don’t know the value of that property. For example, a business may have to be valued, or real estate may have to be valued, superannuation information might have to be obtained. And then once I get the balance sheet and I’m able to assess the contributions and then look at the parenting arrangements and what needs, I’m able to give my clients some advice about the likely percentage division. And I normally give them a range, five to 10 percent.

Leanne Abela:
Yeah, so do I. I give them the range. I guess, just before I do the calculations, I point out to them the relevant factors under the family law act that relate to their case because every family is different. And so every separation is different. So often those relevant factors are, that feed into the percentage split, are is it a long or a short relationship? Can each party financially support themselves? Is child support going to be paid, or is it not going to be paid because somebody is self employed and might manipulate their income? Are there any disabilities in relation to health issues that affect the children’s expenses or the parent ability to earn an income. Were there contributions from outside sources, as you said, such as inheritances or lump sums. And then I look at whether or not there are any other relevant factors that go into the mix in particular, the size of the pool. Is it small or is it large?

Leanne Abela:
All of these factors go into the minestrone soup of relevant factors, and then you give them a percentage, not spot on, but usually within a 5% range. And, Joe, how many times have you and I yelled through the office door saying, Joe, Leanne, can you come in here and give me a second opinion? And more often than not, I reckon, what, 99% of cases, we are exactly the same range. So I’ll say to Joe, here are the facts. I’ve got this client on the phone now. What would you give he or she by way of percentage? And nine out of 10 times, Joe will say 60%, 70%, 5%, whatever. And I’ll show the piece of paper. And I’ll say that’s exactly what I’ve said. So I don’t know about you, I find clients are really thrilled to be able to get free of charge, first interview, partnership level, 35 years each, that’s 70 years of experience on their case.

Joe Schepis:
I think that the clients appreciate that after half an hour, they’ve got some direction about where things might pan out and they can move on with some clarity. And then once I’ve sorted the parenting out, once we’ve discussed the property and the likely division of property, I then go to talk about costs and what likely costs the client might incur, depending on different scenarios, obviously. I then talk about the need potentially for them to make a will and power of attorney about doing a nomination on their superannuation or life insurances. And then we’ll discuss options. What options, where do we go to from here? Whether they want to think about it, whether they’re going to want to go to mediation, do a letter to the other side to open up negotiations. Sometimes it’s lodging a caveat over a title to protect the property.

Leanne Abela:
Yes, yes, that’s urgent.

Joe Schepis:
Sometimes it’s let’s go to court straight away. There’s no there’s urgency involved. And so therefore at the end of the half hour free consultation, the client’s got not only the clarity about parenting and property matters but also options available to them and something for them to think about.

Leanne Abela:
But they’re certainly under no pressure.

Joe Schepis:
Absolutely.

Leanne Abela:
I mean, that’s what we offer, the first interview for free. And many of my clients will say that’s terrific. I’m in mediation at the moment. Now I kind of get it. The mediator did suggest I get legal advice. That was seamless. Thank you so much. Sometimes I’ll have the client’s mum and dad on the phone at the same time, or they’ll come in the interview with them. Anything we offer by way of Zoom, telephone, FaceTime, coming in when it’s not COVID times, all of the options are available. So it’s quite good.

Joe Schepis:
And although we talk about the half hour consultation, sometimes it goes for 40 minutes, sometimes for 45 minutes. We’re not that precious about it unless we’ve got other pressing things on our time, but generally speaking, we’re there to help our clients and get some clarity and some guidance.

Leanne Abela:
So that’s what you need to know in terms of the first interview. Not very scary was it? And we certainly don’t bite. So we look forward to hearing from you at Pearsons and if you want to make an appointment, then telephone 93060044 or 1300699688. Thank you.

Pearsons Family Lawyers

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