Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky

Before Taking the Plunge: What are Pre-action Procedures?

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By Rhonda Griffiths, Special Counsel at Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky Lawyers

9 August 2016

Googling Pre-action Procedures will bring up formal documents that have been published by the government relating to Family Law called “Before you File” (the link to the Family Court of Western Australia version is at the end of this article).

Pre-action Procedures set out what couples are directed to do by the law to avoid going to court about their settlement, if possible.  Couples are expected to engage in family dispute resolution.

If a person doesn’t take part in the processes described in the Pre-action Procedures documents, there are consequences that range from having a legal fight when they should have been able to avoid it, to having to pay legal costs for the other party’s lawyer.

Many couples have it clear in their minds that they don’t want to go to court but are not sure how to avoid that process.

This article is about three steps to set you on the way to a successful settlement.

Your particular case: which process to use?

The first step is to provide my client with a clear picture of the processes that can be considered in their particular case.

There will be discussion about the options of mediation and collaboration and negotiation outside of those processes.  These are different approaches to a negotiated settlement.  Both mediation and collaboration is designed to empower the parties with the skills of their professional advisors and in mediation, the mediator.  Negotiation (without mediation or collaboration) is a less formal process.

The ethical approach of the professionals, the lawyers and other experts, provides support for what can be a difficult process to be as smooth and comfortable as possible.

For some couples, some water needs to go under the bridge before they can deal with issues.  Often one partner will become frustrated at the speed at which the other wants to proceed.

Often legal advice is required urgently to deal with immediate practical problems or issues, even though it may be some time before settlement can be contemplated.

The first step towards a successful settlement is assessment of the best approach to take.

Time lines: how much time should be spent?

The second step is to establish the time line that is going to suit the situation and circumstances.  Before the settlement process can properly get underway there has to be “disclosure”. The Pre-action Procedures document lists what paperwork each party has to provide to the other.

It may seem odd to be giving your ex documents that they may already have or have seen, and confronting to give over documents to the other party that they have never seen before.

Disclosure is about ensuring that there is a level playing field for the couple.  One spouse or partner is usually across the financial details more than the other.

Until there is proper disclosure and the opportunity for reflection and advice about the disclosure, a person shouldn’t be asked, confronted or challenged to say what they want.

In a successful settlement process, it is not so much about what a person wants, as having the opportunity to find out and understand what is reasonable and fair in the particular circumstances and to explore all the options that are available.

Couples who have an out of court settlement can generate options that may not be available to parties in contested litigation.

For whatever reason, a time line necessity may require fast tracking of Pre-action Procedures and a limited time for settlement negotiations before litigation, while a last resort, has to be considered.

Disclosure and Resources

The third step in preparation for settlement is to achieve disclosure and to access relevant resources.

Disclosure usually takes some time and can be complex and time consuming.  Valuations are usually needed. Consideration may be given to instructing financial advisors to assist in establishing the asset pool.

There are services and resources that can assist in preparation of a couple for engagement in their negotiation and settlement processes.

As part of the preparation to be able to engage properly, I encourage my clients to access relevant services and often to seek counselling support, having in mind that most people go through a difficult adjustment during this time.

Finally

Any person in the circumstance of considering a separation from their partner should access legal advice even if they are still uncertain about the future of their relationship.  As lawyers we are duty bound to assist you to consider whether marriage and relationship counselling might help you.

We can also reality test your circumstances with you and talk about what might happen, without you making any final decisions.  Because separation is a complex and difficult step, advice about the way to separate can be of great assistance.  It can support a process that will ultimately lead to a final settlement by agreement.

The Family Court of Western Australia website www.familycourt.wa.gov.au provides downloadable access to the brochures with the link as follows: www.familycourt.wa.gov.au/B/brochures.aspx

Brochure 2 in Children’s matters: Before you file- Pre-action procedures for Parenting Cases

Brochure 2 in Financial cases: Before you file-Pre-action procedures for Financial Cases

If you would like any further information in relation to this topic please feel free to contact the author to discuss the matter further.

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