Family Law Blog and News

Saddling up the Divorce Horse – Thrive Beyond Divorce Podcast Episode 5

 

Author and speaker, Lucy Bloom talks with specialist family lawyer Jennifer Hetherington about the real questions people want answered, when they are separating. Jennifer and Lucy share personal and professional experiences and lots of practical information for anyone going through divorce or as Lucy puts it “Everything you need to know to saddle up the divorce horse”.

 

Here are some extracts from the podcast

Lucy:
You’ve given me a show to run. I’ve seen a fair bit of you and look, let’s just cover this straight up front. What is different about Divorce Hub? What is different about you and the model and the way you work?

Jennifer:
Okay, so we have a sign which says we’re not just lawyers and, and our tagline is Thrive beyond Divorce. I had my own family law firm. It was a traditional family law model. For a long time I’d been thinking that there’s a lot that’s missing and a lot of scaffolding that’s really needed when people are going through divorce that lawyers can’t provide. I was finding that I was needing to refer clients to lots of different people to help them through the process. While I was sort of thinking about this and “how on earth am I ever going to have time to put this together?” a colleague who’s not a lawyer who I used to work with approached me with this idea that she had and it turns out, that that was actually exactly what she was thinking.


So we had this meeting of minds and over a couple of glasses of wine joined forces and decided we’d start Divorce Hub. What we do that is different is yes, I’m the specialist family lawyer who’s in charge of the family law side of things, but we have a range of other services that we offer, including a psychologist, we work with financial planners, mortgage brokers,we have wellness treatments, yoga, pilates, exercise and diet consulting, wills, estates, pretty much all of the stuff that people need around them when they’re going through what can be an incredibly stressful time in their lives. And we bring it all together in one place so that we don’t have to outsource it to different people because it really is a hub. It avoids that stress of people having to go and find a new place and meet a new person all at the same time. They just come to the one familiar environment.


Lucy:
You can’t underestimate all those additional stresses and other- it sounds little, but you know, like finding a park when you’re going to a new supplier, when life feels like it’s falling apart beneath you to have it all literally in one place. Anyway, I think a hub is a brilliant idea.


Let’s, let’s go through this in a chronological kind of way, cause that suits my brain. So when people approach divorce, it’s one of two ways. It’s either inflicted upon them or it’s a decision they, they have decided on. So tell me first when you realise that divorce is going to be your path, I say you’re saddling up the divorce horse and you’re still keeping this to yourself. So someone has decided that they are going to separate with a view to divorce, but they haven’t told their partner yet. How do you advise they get their ducks in a row?


Jennifer:
We have a separation planning service that we take people through and there’s a lot of different steps involved in leading up to that communication point and making sure that they’ve got all their documents together, all the information that we need and that it’s a planned process because unless it’s a safety issue, it’s best to actually have a structured plan to leave so that you do it correctly. That can save people a lot of money and stress down the track if they do it correctly. So it’s about getting enough information so that we can give advice beforehand about what likely outcomes are going to be, because so many people don’t know what their situation is going to be. So it’s information, knowledge is power and just having those things prepared. That doesn’t mean preparing for war, because we don’t have to have a conflictual divorce, but it means being prepared for the process and not then having to scramble in the midst of an emotional upheaval and trying to manage children’s emotions potentially as well.


Lucy:
I remember not wanting a lawyer who would behave like an attack dog. It was really important to me that I didn’t want this to become a war.
Then there’s the other way that divorce happens and it’s when it’s inflicted on you. And that’s how it was for me. My husband just one day went “I want a divorce!” Just hollered that at me and then it kind of flowed from there.
So how do you help a client, who, it’s not their decision, but they need to start taking steps to make it happen and to look after their interests. What do you advise to those?


Jennifer:
So it’s actually really quite different for those people because when people go through divorce, they go through a cycle of grief. The same thing that happens when someone dies. And if you’ve made the decision yourself, you’re further through that cycle. But if you didn’t make the decision, the decider has gone further than you have. So they’re at the point of, come on, let’s get this done. They’ve done their grieving, they’ve ready to move. But the person who’s had it inflicted upon them is in all of that anger, denial, bargaining, all of those things that happen when you’re right in the throes of grief. So what we really need to do is protect that person and help them to make sensible decisions or defer decisions until they’re ready to be made, and to try to just get the other person to be a bit patient and wait. We don’t want people to make decisios in the height of grieving when they’re not going to be acting in their own self-interest, and are more susceptible to believing the other party’s ‘nonsense’ let’s call it. So true. So for us it’s about providing that emotional support.


Lucy:
I needed lots of reassurance, because of the nonsense.


Jennifer:
What I’ll do with people is break it down into small steps. If you go away and do this, I can take care of X, Y, Z, A, B, C, D. Just do this bit for me and then I can take care of the rest. But if it gets too hard for you to do that bit, we can take that back. It’ll save you some money to do it, but let us know if it becomes too much and we’ll take it back. So it’s really about pacing is really important.


Lucy:
What are the options for couples who want to stay out of court?


Jennifer:
There are some really good options. Court is absolutely a place of last resort.
Our delays in our court system were already phenomenal. Two to three years – that’s blowing out now because of COVID 19. So if you want to spend three to five years of your life in court, by all means. But, anything that you gain from it, you potentially lose in legal fees, but also in stress, lost income, impacts on your health, all of that.
There’s really two main ones that help people control their own process. And that’s mediation, which is familiar to most people. But in short, it’s two people in a room with a facilitator.
If it’s about parenting, you don’t need to have lawyers there normally. If there’s money involved, really need to have the lawyers so that people have got legal advice and that any agreements reached are going to be approved by the court because they’ve got to fall within a range of what’s reasonable. It can be done in separate rooms. Sometimes people don’t want to sit in the same room as each other and it can be counter-productive.
But when you’re talking about kids, if safety’s not an issue, try and get in the same room and have a conversation about the future of your children.


Lucy:
It sounds like quite an efficient way to do it. So my ex and I, we did it over months of really unfriendly text messages and I think it would have been much more efficient way to do it would be, it would have been with what I would call a referee.


Jennifer:
I tell clients don’t text. I’ve a no texting rule. It’s really unhelpful.


Lucy:
Only text about what I call kid logistics. As soon as it got out of that I would just phase out.


Jennifer:
The other problem with text messages is it’s very reactive so people can say things in the heat of the moment. So I like people to pause, think about it and let’s send an email instead and maybe we need to save that email as a draft, walk away, have a cup of coffee or a glass of water, not alcohol, and then come back.


So the other process option, which is really helpful for people to control their process is called collaborative divorce or collaborative practice. And, that’s I guess an expansion on mediation. And we bring in an interdisciplinary team. So really great for people who’ve got businesses because we can bring in a neutral financial specialist who can unravel what’s going on there. Sometimes a lot of the time, one party has a lot more financial knowledge and control than the other. It levels that playing field, but in a way that that person’s coming in as a neutral rather than being adversarial. So then you’re only paying for one expert and you’re not paying the lawyers to try and interpret financial documents. You’ve got one person doing it. A communication and family professional can help with the emotional stuff. So if there’s been an affair, some kind of betrayal, that discussion can be taken offline, away from the lawyers to deal with that issue, which can sometimes be stopping people from being able to make a decision. So, that’s another process which is really effective. Parties actually sign a contract that they’re not going to go to court. So it’s truly a commitment to “we are going to work this out. We’ll be as creative as we have to, but we’re not going to court.”


Lucy:
A lot of couples that you referred to that imbalance in the financial literacy and for lots of lots of couples rightly or wrongly, one person in that couple is the main breadwinner or earns a lot more than the other.
So what if your ex is the one that really is in control? What if they’re the breadwinner? They’re the one with the fabulous future income and they also control everything so they know how the mortgage works and they know who your financial planner is, they know the passwords to everything. What’s your advice to the person who’s on the back foot?


Jennifer:
I have a lot of clients in that situation, particularly at the moment, and the first thing I do is normalise it for them, that it’s actually quite normal for one person to make the financial decisions and the other person to make the parenting decisions because that’s part of the unspoken delegation that happens in a marriage. You can’t sit down and have a meeting every single day about every single issue. People just fall into their natural roles. After separation, tensions arise when one person tries to get into the other’s role, which happens if there’s kids and money. So it’s about information, making sure that we’ve got the information. We bring in a forensic accountant if we need to, to help our client interpret the business documents and get an idea of what, what is this business worth, what’s going on here? Getting information that the other party’s obliged to provide and we have the knowledge to understand what we’re looking for and offering some reassurance and knowing what to dig for, and getting that information together.
If there’s a lack of access to funds, we can also help with that. So a lot of people don’t realise,that there’s an option to apply not just for child support, but for spousal maintenance. I see people commenting, Oh, you know, we’ve got no property to divide. We don’t need to do anything. But if there’s an income stream, then people can actually get an ongoing order for spousal maintenance in the absence of there being enough assets to divide. So that’s one way. Some of my clients work with legal finance providers where they don’t have access to funds to progress a property settlement, they can borrow from a legal finance provider who gets paid out of their settlement at the end.


Lucy:
Right. Great advice.
When we first split, I took 10 grand, my ex took 10 grand and then we agreed not to touch the rest. We didn’t just agree. We went to the bank and made double signature. And that gave us each a bit of cashflow. And for the first time in my adult life, I opened a bank account in my name only. So I now tell my kids, you never give up your financial independence. But was that a good plan?
Did we muddle through that okay? We gave ourselves some cash flow, but then we closed the rest of things up and we weren’t unreasonable. If something needed to be paid for, we just double signed. Was that a good step?


Jennifer:
Absolutely. Both people need access to money and some friends, family, Facebook and fools will tell you, take all the money, take all the money in the joint bank account. That’s just antagonistic and aggressive and guaranteed to cause a war. You know, it’s like throwing oil on a fire. How to annoy your ex partner 101. Take all the money.
Taking an amount each, or taking half and leaving half for the other person or, if it’s a large sum doing as you did, take enough each and then lock the funds down to protect them. Because once that money’s gone, I can tell you it’s gone. Somebody decides in a post divorce, fit of pique “Well, I’m gonna go take around the world flight, or splash some money on fine dining… You can’t get those things back. If someone goes and buys a house, well that’s still part of the property pool if it was purchased after separation. But if they buy jewellery, it’s value is about a quarter to a third of what you pay for it.
So protect the money that’s there, but be sensible about it.
one thing people forget is that if they’ve got direct debits coming out, got to make sure that they’re covered somehow

.
Lucy:
Yes or cancel some of them. I remember we stupidly had two life insurance policies, two of them,that were still coming out of our accounts. That took me a year to get to the bottom of.
Costs, reducing legal costs. I imagine the Hub reduces some of those, well, certainly in the running around. What are your tips for reducing legal costs?


Jennifer:
So there’s quite a few ways. One is to talk to the person that’s the most relevant person to talk to. So that’s why we have counsellors at the Hub. Don’t use your lawyer as a counsellor because it just doesn’t make sense.


Lucy:
But you’re desperate to talk to someone. So I remember the very first lawyer, I did make one or two calls to lawyers at the start of the process and I blurted out all this stuff the lawyer did not need to know. So that’s such good advice. You gotta tell the right professional we need to talk to someone who knows what they’re hearing.


Jennifer:
We also went a step further with the Divorce Hub and my partner is actually our Client Support Manager and she will chat with a client without charging them, just to check in and be the hand holder or the buddy, just that sounding board when they’re just at the, Oh, what do I do? What do I do? And she’ll say, “okay, well you need to talk to Jennifer” or “you need an appointment with the counsellor”. And she’ll triage it. But they can have that chat without it costing money. That’s a specific service that we’ve developed.

But generally speaking, don’t ring up every five minutes to have a chat. Don’t send three emails. Sit down, work out, what are your questions? What are your burning questions? Make a list of them and save them up and send them. I love a numbered list. Send me an email with 10 questions and then I can answer with the same numbers.


Lucy:
That’s the case with any supplier. You know, I look after the strata in our building and so I need to do all the communication with our strata company. And Monday is strata day, I have decided for myself, I only communicate with them on a Monday. So the rest of the week I gather the questions and then I send one email on a Monday. So if that, that works for me with all my suppliers that might work the same with a lawyer. Just choose a day and that’s the day that you pump out all the questions. You save them all up and send them to your lawyer.


Jennifer:
It’s also about being really organised with your documents. Even just getting one of those display books that the kids have for school and putting the things in the plastic sleeve so that if your lawyer needs something, you can get your hands on it quickly.
We work on a pretty much paperless office. So I love scanned PDFs and everything nicely organised. We give clients the option of uploading their documents themselves through a secure client portal rather than them sending them to us and us processing them, all of which costs money. But again, it depends on the client. Some people just can’t cope with that. Or if they’re busy professionals running a business, they go, you know what, it’s actually better for me to run my business and you do that. So it’s about looking for where you can make savings without having false economy.

Lucy:
How do you know, start the process? Divorce is such an emotional event in your life. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. I had a year in hospital with a motorcycle accident, which tops my worst year ever. And then the year I was divorced was my next worst year. It has such an emotional impact on, on your life. So what’s your advice on how to protect yourself emotionally and how to limit that emotional impact on your life?


Jennifer:
I’m also divorced, so I get it. And my business partner is as well, so we get that it is really, really tough.
I think it’s about understanding that this is going to be different and you’re going to need to do things differently to get through it and finding something that works for you. For me, I took up yoga and running and that was how I just got my headspace, looked after myself physically, but also emotionally. And I’d go in the middle of the day. I was going through my own divorce and doing other people’s divorces as my job. So lunchtimes, if it just got too much, I’d pop down to the gym and do a 40 minute yoga class and go back to work. That was just that time that I could just stop and, get away from everything and breathe. So that was really important. And using counsellors, I really am so happy when a client is using a counsellor because there’s a lot of stuff to process and I wish more people in Australia would use counsellors. Women seem to be more open to it than men, but the people who get through their divorces best are the ones who are doing that talking with someone who is not emotionally invested in it. Talking to your friends is one thing, but then they’re biased.


Lucy:
It’s the blind leading the blind. But you do you need a good gasbag and you do need to check for the answers in the bottom of all your wine bottles and your buddies are the best, the best people to do that with. But it is the blind leading the blind and you’re absolutely right. They’re totally biased.


Jennifer:
But you also want to make sure that you still have friends and family around after your divorce. And if all you do is talk about your divorce, they’re going to get sick of it. So again, make sure that you’ve got an outlet where you can get some closure on those things aside from your friends and don’t sit at home having a pity party. You’ve got to get out and be active even if it’s a walk around the block.


Lucy:
Yeah, so true. I was lucky I had a friend just going through the same stuff at the same time as me so we could bore the snores out of each other and we got through it together and now we’re both five years post disaster. And so we, we barely talk about our exes anymore. One of the things I do recommend to my friends as they, as they start this process is to do their best to try to avoid revenge. Cause I think that flows through everything, the money conversation, the emotional stuff cause revenge feels disgusting revenge is like, I think there’s quotes out there about, you know, when you take revenge it’s like drinking poison yourself and hoping it’ll kill the other person. It’s really bad for you. Is that something that you advise your clients as well as to step away from that resonates?


Jennifer:
It’s interesting you just brought that up.It’s really important not to get so caught up in the emotion and the need to be right that you lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s really about making sure you’ve got that perspective. But that’s part of my job as a lawyer to help people get that perspective and to be able to be brave enough to have the conversation to say, “you know what? I know that’s what you want to happen, but this is what it’s going to cost you to do that”. And that’s not always just dollars. It’s about the impact that it will have on their children. I do a lot of work as well as a parenting coordinator rather than a lawyer. And I see those high conflict couples where it’s all been about rights and revenge and they can’t talk to each other and their kids are stuck in a war zone. And it’s really about having those discussions with them and saying, you know what, you’re messing up your kids. Divorce doesn’t harm children. It’s what parents do during their divorce that harms kids.


Lucy:
Yeah, that’s such good advice. Look, I love a good success story and I speak about this often in my speeches about how thinking on the best case scenario is actually really good for you. It you know, lowers your blood pressure, makes you feel much better when you’re actually, you’re actually fantasising almost and dreaming up what the best case scenario might look like. And that’s why I mention revenge because best case scenario is not your ex’s head on a stake. It’s actually a good divorce and it’s a good life ahead with these kids if you have them and that sort of thing. But I love hearing success stories and you don’t often hear, I have one friend who says I had a great divorce. Gosh, it was good. And I have a really wonderful ex. I have only one friend who speaks like that. So I would love to hear some success stories from your clients who have had a great result or who didn’t think they’d get anything or went into it with nothing. I’d love to hear your success story.


Jennifer:
I think for me the most successful outcome is the ones that aren’t…they’re not my clients very long because we work it out quickly. We get consent orders, we move on. They’re the ones that send all their friends to me because they say “she’ll help you get it sorted out. It won’t cost you a fortune”. That to me is a success.
But there are the cases where the other party will dig in their heels and we have to keep going. And I’ve had a number of matters where my clients have due to no fault of their own, ended up in a protracted battle just to get the other party to give them something. And I don’t want to go into too much detail about specific cases because it could identify my clients, but I’ve had one which was both parenting and property, another which was property.
And in both cases the ex didn’t want my client to get anything. Just walk away with what you’ve got and be grateful that you don’t have to pay me something. And we ended up going to trial and, much to the dismay of the exes in both situations, my client ended up with more than what the original offer had been to accept from the other party. So we were right on the money.


I have a different example of, a lovely story.. a few years ago I had a matter and we did this as a collaborative divorce and the client came to me, she was absolutely devastated. Her husband had had an affair. My client was a stay at home parent. She’d had a casual job earning probably $15 an hour and really couldn’t financially support herself.
Everything was reliant on the husband and getting his very good superannuation policy when they retired and they were planning for their retirement and suddenly, boom, there’s an affair. He says, I want to leave. And she says, “but we had this life plan. We’ve been working towards this for 35 years. What am I going to do?”
We worked with that couple in a collaborative divorce process and we had a neutral financial professional. One of the questions that he and I asked her was around her values and worries around money. And I’ll never forget her saying “I’m worried I’m going to end up the little old lady walking the streets with all my worldly goods in a battered brown suitcase and that’s going to be my life.”
She was truly fearful that she was going to go from this wife of a successful business person to living out of a suitcase on the streets.


Lucy:
It happens. It’s a really real fear, you know, women over 55 are the largest group of homeless.


Jennifer:
She was about, I think she was about 58 so we worked with her with the financial neutral and an independent financial advisor so that when she got her settlement, it could be structured in a way that worked for her. So we resolved that matter.
Fast forward about, I think four years, the financial advisor that I’d connected her with invited me to a lunch, which was the update at the hotel ballroom with all the clients and the update on the market and how wonderfully we’ve done for you. And she didn’t tell me, but my old client was there and she sat her next to me. I’m going to call her Mary. I asked her “how are you doing?” And she said, “well, I’ve just come back from my fourth cruise and I’ve got two more bookeds, I’ve got my nice little apartment and my investments are doing really well. I’ve connected with a group of women that I met on the first cruise and we catch up and we’d go to the show. We got to theatre and go to QPAC all the time. We have regular catch ups”. And then she sat there – this is someone who was just not across the finances – she sat there taking notes throughout the presentation in her little notebook and I just went, wow.. So that’s my goal – to have people better divorced than they were together.


Lucy:
When things have worked out well in future you should send your lawyer a note? Yes, hey things have worked out okay, because you wouldn’t hear a lot of that. You wouldn’t get that, you know, down the track feedback?


Jennifer:
I had one client who came in recently. She was moving countries, so she wanted to pick up her file before she left. I asked her how are things going? Se was about four years down the track and she said, “Oh my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was holding me back! At the time it was really tough and I didn’t want it, but geez, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me”.
Divorce doesn’t have to actually be the end of your life.


Lucy:
I describe it like a gallstone. It’s really painful at the time. It sucks hard, but life is so much better afterwards. And that’s where I’m at that stage, you know, five years on, I’m happier than I ever imagined I could be. I hadn’t realised just how deeply miserable I was for two whole decades. And divorce became the gateway to a much better life. It was just a pretty painful gateway. It was like, you know, like stepping on broken glass to get through the damn gateway, but it was such a positive thing.


Now you mentioned a couple of things there. You talked about a financial agreement and parenting agreement and people right at the start of the process won’t understand what those separate items are? How are property settlements actually worked out?


Jennifer:
So there’s, there’s a process that’s sometimes described as four steps, sometimes five.
The first is to establish whether or not there should be a property settlement. And in most cases, the answer is yes. There is a small percentage of cases where the court’s determined that that’s not appropriate. Most people, if they’ve got a 20 year marriage, a couple of kids and they’ve got shared assets that they’re going to get the tick. It’s a very rare case that doesn’t the criteria.


Then we have to identify and value all of the assets. The important thing that people need to be aware of is that everything’s divided as at the date it’s being divided, not the date of separation.
So if you take two years to do your divorce, it’s the values in two years time of whatever exists in two years time. So if somebody goes out and buys another property that’s in the property pool. If someone gets an inheritance that’s in the property pool.
So looking at what our property pool is, superannuation goes in everything goes into that pot.


Then the next phase is to look at the contributions that have been made towards that pool of property by each party. This is the one where people get a little bit confused because often in a long marriage that contribution is seen as being equal 50/50. This is where there’s a myth around Australia that property settlements 50/50, and that’s just not correct. Often the contributions are seen as 50/50 because equal weight is given to the role of a homemaker as a breadwinner, but there can be variations on that if someone has brought in a significant initial contribution. So if they brought in a property that’s enabled other properties to be purchased because of the security, bringing in a valuable business, farming families, often the family farm’s brought in. So those things can swing the contributions to a greater percentage to one party. Same thing with the inheritance that can swing it. So, even though the inheritance is in the property pool, the person who inherited the money or whatever it was, gets a credit for that on the contributions.
So if everything’s equal, you get together when you’re 20, you’ve both got nothing, you work hard, you don’t get any money from family, you just do the best you can. Most of the time those contributions will be seen as being 50/50.


There’s a next step and this is an important one. It’s where an adjustment can be made to that contributions based percentage. That’s to take into account things like people’s age, their health and most significantly their income and earning capacity and the effect that their marriage has had on that. So for instance, I’ve had quite a few clients over the years who at the beginning of the marriage they were teachers or nurses. They stopped to have the kids. Now they’d have to go back to university to be able to reregister and do their old profession and they’d start at the lowest pay grade in some situations. Whereas the husband has built a career, she’d supported that by looking after the kids. So it’s not just earning capacity, it’s how the marriage has impacted that. It’s really to take into account the fact that over the course of say, a 20 year marriage, people do things with their careers for the good of the family and that that needs to be taken into account.


So there’s a percentage adjustment can be made at that stage to that overall contributions based entitlement. And then we get an overall figure and most lawyers will give you a range because there’s a range in which the court says a reasonable settlement can fall, because not every judge will give you the same result.
Then finally it’s how do we get that? How much is going to be super? Are we selling the house? Is one person keeping it and paying the other one out? How do we get that percentage?


Lucy:
Then there’s the parenting side of it. So you’ve worked out the property settlement. They’re very separate agreements am I right?


Jennifer:
People can do a parenting plan or they can do a consent order. Most people these days either work out parenting between themselves or use family dispute resolution, which is a form of mediation. You can’t go to court to argue about your kids unless you’ve done mediation. You have to get a certificate. There’s a limited range of exceptions where there’s family violence or abuse, that sort of thing. But generally speaking, you have to mediate your kids. You’ve got to talk about them and try and work it out yourselves before you ask a stranger to do it for you, which is really quite sensible.


Lucy:
Yeah, that makes sense. Is there anything about the process, the whole divorce process that isn’t sensible, that you just go, there’s this weird quirk that’s the dumbest thing ever? Is there anything that isn’t fair that’s dumb as hell?


Jennifer:
Oh, the fact that our court’s chronically underfunded and it takes forever to deal with allegations of abuse or domestic violence. So people end up stuck in a system where if they’re not believed, they believe their kids are at risk because they’re having time with the other parent, or if they are believed a parent is not seeing their kids and not getting a chance to have their day in court for two to three years. So that is something that really frustrates me that we don’t get a chance to test those very serious allegations at an early stage.


Lucy:
If you were prime minister, how would you change that? How would you actually make that happen? Just throw a stack of funding at it?


Jennifer:
I would change the entry process to the court. So at the moment you can’t go to court for parenting unless you’ve done mediation. Make people do that for property as well. There is a new process that’s come into the courts where they are trialling registrars case managing property matters so that people have to do things, before they can get before a judge. But there are still ways around that and you can end up with people just dragging it out.
Make it compulsory to provide your documents, to have a mediation and then let’s leave the court to deal with those serious issues, that impact the safety of children and throw money at that and experts. In New Zealand they have an independent children’s lawyer appointed in every single matter. We don’t have that here. Having that person available would triage a lot of the issues and get them really focused. But our independent children’s lawyers are funded by legal aid. Legal aid doesn’t have enough money.
If I had a magic wand, everyone would be able to get access to have a lawyer if they wanted one.


Lucy:
Is there anything we’ve missed?


Jennifer:
Protect yourself. If you’re separating, plan for it. But once you’ve done it, protect yourself.
Stay off social media. Don’t plaster your life on Facebook. That can actually be used as evidence.
If you are struggling to communicate with your ex, there are things that you can do that are self-help. Get a second phone if you can, or a dual SIM phone so that you can screen the calls from the ex so you don’t have to receive them. Or get a cheap phone and put the SIM in that they use and keep it in a drawer and choose when you’re going to look at that because you might need to keep that phone for the kids to communicate with your ex.
Another thing that I tell everyone to do, it’s something I did myself is get a new email address and give that to the people you want to hear from your mum, your dad, your family, your best friends, your bank and your lawyer and let all the spam, all the newsletters that you subscribe to and the messages from the ex go to the other one. That way you can choose when you read those communications and you don’t get that feeling of anxiety every time you open your email, “is there going to be one from him or her that’s just going to unsettle my day?” I really encourage clients to do that. And when they do it, it makes a big difference.


Lucy:
And I went one step further. I took that old email address off my phone. So that I didn’t see any of that unless I chose to open my laptop, open my emails and see that address.


Jennifer:
It’s about having that choice. If there’s issues of domestic violence… (I did a podcast a few weeks ago with a lawyer who specialises in domestic violence, which has got some really helpful information about specifics in there. And if someone’s in that situation, I’d really encourage them to go to that.)
But one thing that’s critical is security of devices and making sure that there’s no tracking on them and particularly the kids’ devices. People think about their own phone and removing the access to trace the phone, but they forget that the kids have got Google or Apple accounts attached to their devices. And if someone’s in a safety risk situation, they can be found through the kids’ devices if they’re not also wiped.


Lucy:
That’s good advice. I fell for that one. And lots of couples do this. They have their phones on the same bill. So husband, wife, same bill because for us it was put through our business and I didn’t realise that when we separated he was the name on the account and he had every right to not let me keep my old number. Now that wasn’t too big a deal for me. But I have a friend who it completely destroyed her business that her ex just refused to give her her number. What my ex did was, and I didn’t realise this was, he could look up and see who I was phoning and see which numbers I was texting a lot. And another thing was the tag in my car. We both had E tags on the same accounts and he was looking up where I was using my Etag and where I was driving often this was long after we separated. He was still keeping an eye on where I was going. And then would use that information against me in arguments. It was horrible. So I should have very early on. And he, he graciously gave me my number and I got to put it on my own bill and keep all my contacts, but I hadn’t thought of that. The Etag and my phone should have been moved on to separate bills.


Jennifer:
EFTPOS transactions are another one. We’re so quick to tap and pay and that shows people where you’re buying things. And I had one client who was mortified, she had to hand over her bank statements and she didn’t have a credit card, she just had her savings account and she did stuff on EFTPOS. And she said to me, can I black stuff out? I said, no you can’t. We’ve got to produce them. And I said, okay, tell me what’s going on here. And she was absolutely mortified. She said, I went to a hen’s party a couple of months ago and I got tasked with going and buying the naughty gift and there’s a transaction on there from an adult store and he’s going to see it. And she was just absolutely mortified. So that’s a funny example, but there are situations where safety can be compromised by that. So you need to be judicious about how you using your cards because that can be used to find out information about you.


Lucy:
All such good advice. Wonderful. This has been a really good chat.
One last question. Are you based in Brisbane, but you can look after clients all over Australia?
I have clients in Yeppoon, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, everywhere. Generally a lot of the time that I spend with clients after our first meeting is on the phone or by email anyway. We use zoom a lot. But I can fly interstate for meetings with clients.

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