Common family law questions answered by Senior Solicitor – Vicki Andrews

Vicki Andrews joined the East Coast Law team in 2015 as a family law expert with close to three decades’ experience in Sydney.

Vicki graduated from Sydney University in the 80s with a double degree – an economics law degree – and was quickly snapped up by the law industry. We’re lucky enough to have Vicki in our Port Macquarie office where she practises family law and mentors the next generation of lawyers for our firm.

We put some common family law questions to Vicki for a quick overview of the major topics.

When someone’s going through a separation or divorce, what would you recommend they do straight away?


If you are in danger or your children are in danger, then you must do something about it. Talk to your friends, take support where it’s available. If you need to speak to someone professionally, do it; just remember that if the situation is not critical, sometimes important decisions are best left for a bit later on.

Unless the person or their children have some real crisis, I tell them to just let the dust settle a bit.

What tips would you give to someone who is a few months through the divorce process?


The first one I give is don’t give your spouse mixed messages. If you intend this to be a final separation make sure that is how you speak to them. I have a theory that few people separate once, and that’s because it’s so hard to do.

Secondly, be kind to your children. And that means that you should be kind to your spouse, even if you can’t stand a bar of them – treat them with some level of respect. Deal with them in a cordial fashion because your children pick up on all of those behaviours.

Do you always need a lawyer for a separation or divorce?


I think you should take advice. People use the word ‘divorce’ in all different ways, but when a lawyer speaks about a divorce, we’re talking about the actual process of becoming or being divorced, we’re not talking about property settlement or children’s issues.

A divorce is filing an application with the court and legally ending your marital relationship. That’s a process that’s very streamlined. The court has streamlined it on purpose, and they encourage parties to file their divorce applications online.

But some people have issues getting a divorce. Sometimes they can’t find their spouse to serve them, sometimes there’s a question about whether they really have been separated for at least 12 months? Some people live under the one roof and claim that they’re separated when they’re still really conducting themselves as man and wife.

How long does the process usually take?


Applying for a divorce is not a long process. It’s pretty much done and dusted inside of about four months.

Sadly, if you need the court’s help to sort out your children or property issues you could spend three years in the court system.

But, if you have a problem and you don’t have to go to court, you can usually sort it in the space of about six to 12 months.

Who should move out and why?


That’s always a hot topic. If there are children, usually the person with the children stays because the other person thinks that’s the right thing.

That’s not always the case, particularly where there’s been domestic violence. Sometimes the first thing you do as the victim of family violence is to leave.

But if there’s a dispute between the people about who stays and who goes, and if a judge must decide, they’ll probably allow the neediest person to stay, and sometimes the neediest person can’t pay the rent or the mortgage. I’ve known matters where the person that is told to go ends up paying for the person that stays for a while, because the person that stays has a need.

How can someone make life after divorce easier for themselves?


I think you can make it easier for yourself if you really do get your issues out of the way. That’s tidying up loose ends, sorting out workable arrangements for your children, having your finances in order, resolving your property matters before you involve yourself in other relationships, making a new will after the matter is sorted.

What’s the easiest way to get help?


There are many ways of getting help. You can ring Legal Aid, you can ring a phone number for Law Access, you can ring mediation centres or counselling type services that offer relationship mediation.

And, of course, you can ring lawyers. I see many people, and just render advice to them and be supportive for them. Most lawyers are pretty good with their time. People ring up and they might need some urgent advice, we accommodate them.

If you’re going through a divorce process and want some help with the legal side of things, contact Vicki Andrews and the team at East Coast Law Family Law on 1300 735 947. You can also download our free ebook, Separation and Divorce: Putting Your Family First, for more information.

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