What would you do with $100,000?
Did you know that the financial outlay for your family to begin and finish a case before the Family Courts here in Australia, will be more than $100,000. This is almost a conservative estimate- I have no doubt that many families have spent many more thousands over the years that is takes to move through the Court process. Those families have found themselves in the minority of separating couples. Court research suggests that only 7% of the families that commence proceedings in an Australian Family Court ever find their way right to the end of a trial. The majority resolve their differences along the way. Regardless, once you commence proceedings in a Court, the financial cost very quickly adds up.
There is good reason for this. When you are litigating before any Court there are many hours of skilled work that goes into properly preparing and advocating a case. There can be many twists and turns as evidence appears and circumstances change. It is perhaps the ‘unknowns’ of any litigious process that are the biggest risk for families.
What we do know is that the Court process will damage a family both emotionally and financially.
The majority of separating families find a way to resolve their differences without ever stepping into a Court. Some families will always need the assistance of Courts- particularly to protect children who are at risk of family violence and abuse. But for a great majority of families the Court process is not the best option if they are genuinely seeking a solution to their parenting or financial issues. Courts will impose decisions on legal issues. Courts, by their nature, are very limited in their capacity to offer solutions to the actual problems that exist for separating families. Those ‘problems’ are more often than not intangible- they are emotional, moral and personal.
If you find yourself in the Family Court process, you will generally spend most of your time drafting long legal documents, reading letters, attending at Courts, listening to experts, seeking assistance from lawyers, from Family Report writers, from Judges and ultimately having other people make a decision about your money or your children.
Many hours of work go into a litigation process but the outcome that is created, a ‘judgment’, is a decision that does not solve the initial problems that the family were suffering. This is not by any stretch a criticism of Judges and Courts, rather they are tasked with a job of making decisions on legal issues. They are not able to offer solutions to families, although I have often seen them try and I am certain they wish they could do more.
This week, after a few days watching families before the Courts, I started thinking about what might happen if those families took their $100,000 and put it in a fund to pay for the assistance they needed to solve the root cause of their difficulties- those emotional, moral and personal difficulties- how would they choose to spend that money? Would they spend it on a Court? What would they do?
Imagine you and your partner have just separated. Imagine you are both overwhelmed with grief, fear and shock and imagine that you are being asked to make decisions that will affect you and your children for the rest of your life. It could not be a more difficult set of circumstances in which to ask any person to have to make a decision.
Now imagine, in this scenario, you and your partner were provided $100,000- the expected financial cost to you of a protracted legal battle- and those funds were placed into an account from which you could both draw funds to seek assistance to solve the difficulties your family faces now that you have separated. What would you do?
Let’s imagine you have children but cannot agree on the time your children will now spend between each of you, now that you have separated. You have different views about parenting, discipline, rules and values. You could not agree on these things when you were married and now it is even more difficult- you have different styles, routines and now your children are experiencing the disagreements that occur each week because, as parents, you have lost the ability to trust one another. You have different views about how your children are coping and what is right for them.
Let’s imagine that these imaginary parents choose to take some of their $100,000 and engage in a parenting education program along with some one on one counselling with a parenting expert. Perhaps that expert might come to their homes, spend some time with them, meet their children, talk with them, see what their homes are like and offer tips and advice on how they can best meet their children’s needs and be the best parents they can be. Would that be useful?
Perhaps they would together invest some of their money in a mediator, who together with the parenting expert might meet with the couple over a series of months as they try different arrangements, test them and focus on different ways to support themselves and their children.
Maybe they would take some of those funds to help them get their new lives underway- to pay bond, rent, buy new furniture. Maybe they would take their children on a short holiday- some respite away from things- to help manage the grief that they are experiencing as they come to terms with the separation.
Some families might prefer to invest some of their fund in education for their children, in extra-curricular activities, in allowing their children to participate in overseas holidays that enable them to broaden their horizons. Maybe their children would benefit from some one on one mentoring, teaching or tutoring. $100,000 would buy many hours of education, or teaching – it certainly buys many hours of legal work.
That imaginary family might seek some legal advice to understand their options, the processes available to them, the likely legal outcomes for their family if they did find themselves in the Court process. But I wonder sometimes if they really would- if the emotional, personal and moral difficulties were addressed would the legal issues relating to their children require much attention at all?
What if those parents had financial issues to resolve after their separation? Would they engage financial experts, accountants and planners who would structure budgets, plan investments and find ways that they could both support their new separated family moving forward? What if they could together plan how they might meet the costs of the private school education that they both hoped their children would enjoy? What if they did this together and had an investment strategy that enabled this to work? Would that be a good spend of their $100,000?
In this day and age $100,000 is an awful lot of money and it can buy years of private school education and is a significant deposit on a new property. With wise investment that $100,000 could go a long way.
There is a legal process that enables families to create bespoke solutions just like those above- it is called collaborative practice. Through collaborative practice a family can custom design their divorce team- professionals often including lawyers, child experts, counsellors, financial planners, valuers and accountants who all work together like the spokes on a wheel to make the ‘wheel’- the family- turn as they start their new future.
I encourage you, if you find yourself experiencing separation or divorce, to pause and take the time to think about how you want your divorce to look. Ask yourself, when your children are adults, what do you hope they will say about how you and your partner managed your separation? How would you like them to feel?
Divorce is easily one of the most difficult experiences many of us will face in life so take the time to really think about the type of divorce you want for your family. It is your $100,000- invest it wisely as you might be surprised how far it could go.