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Swift Justice?

September 12, 2013

“…Why is it taking so long to sort this out?”

 Every family lawyer has heard this at one stage from an exasperated client. Often the lawyer is just as exasperated by delays. While cases that linger are an occupational hazard when you work within the Family Court, I personally like to have what I call “efficient file velocity”.

When a client asks me how long it will take to resolve their issue, I sometimes hear myself saying “how long is a piece of string?”. I appreciate this is not particularly helpful but I go on to explain that each case is unique and I walk the client through the number of factors that can cause delay in the progression of a case.

So, what are some reasons for delay?

Snail slow

  • Delays in the Family Court: If you have proceedings that are before the Family Court, you may get caught up in the backlog of cases that the Court has. Your lawyer will be familiar with the state of delay in your local Court. Your lawyer may be doing everything in his or her power to try to push your matter to the top of the pile and is likely to be just as exasperated as you about such delays. Delays in the Family Court is one reason why I recommend mediation or collaborative practice to my clients.
  • The other side: One thing you cannot control in a family law dispute is how the other party and/or their lawyer will act. If they are slow to respond, difficult to negotiate with, unreasonably argumentative, reluctant to provide information or all of the above, then this will cause delay. In such situations, you may find you have to file proceedings in order to simply get access to information but see the delay contributing factor immediately above – the Family Court!
  • How legally complex is your matter? Some cases are very complex, either legally or in respect to the asset structures in issue or for social or health reasons impacting the parties. Often a hybrid of these reasons is at play. Such cases take time to work through in an appropriate and well considered way.
  • Have you provided your lawyer with all the information he or she has asked you to provide in a quick manner? Lawyers don’t like gathering information for the sake of it. There is usually a good reason for why it is needed. If you are unsure, ask.
  • Have you paid your lawyer’s bill? I am picking you don’t like working for nothing and nor does your lawyer.
  • Strategically, is there a good reason for delay? Sometimes the best course of action is inaction. I have had cases where, for good reasons,  the plan agreed with the client is one of “do nothing for now”.  However, you should be aware if there is good reason for delay to be part of your overall issue resolution strategy and should agree to this.
  • Is it your lawyer? If you have provided your lawyer with all the information he or she has asked of you and you have given him or her clear instructions about what to do next and they haven’t done so in the timeframe indicated to you, you may have a problem with your lawyer. Lawyers are only human (no, really, we are!) and so, like you, we experience unexpected events which get us behind. Good practice is to advise a client immediately if this happens. If you are concerned about delays that appear caused by your lawyer, you should speak with your lawyer about it directly first. If no satisfaction is found there, approach their superviser or a partner within their firm. When they are first engaged by a client, all lawyers are required to provide clients with information about how to deal with a complaint.
  • Is it you? One of the reasons for delay that I frequently see is that one or both parties are simply “not ready” to resolve things. Separation is regarded as being right up there in the top ten of life’s most stressful events. Emotionally and mentally, at this moment in time, you or the other party may not be in the right place to address the issues you are facing. It is for this reason that I urge many of my clients to consider using Collaborative Practice to resolve issues arising out of their separation. Collaborative Practice allows the parties to “set the pace” of the process in a way that feels right for them and their family having regard to where they are at post separation.

One of my clients has a relationship property matter that has been going on for the last 12 months. One of the reasons for this is that the other party was slow to engage a lawyer and my client wanted to give him time to get his head around doing this. They were then both slow to get information to their lawyers and once the relevant information had been exchanged, the other party changed his lawyer which took time. Now there are difficulties negotiating resolution.

Compare that with the experience of another client for whom I recently completed a Relationship Property settlement within 2 weeks of first meeting with him. He sought my assistance to coach him through negotiations that he and his wife undertook directly with one another. They promptly agreed between themselves about the care arrangements for their son and how to divide their property. They then efficiently gathered all the information and documents I and his wife’s lawyer asked them to provide to us so that we could formalise their agreement and they promptly attended to the necessary refinancing of their mortgage.

It won’t always be possible to have the right combination of circumstances that allow you to resolve matters as promptly as this last client but the two scenarios given illustrate the impact the different factors identified above can have on the velocity in which your matter is resolved. Which scenario would you rather find yourself in?

If you are concerned about a family law issue, give the team at Family Law Results a call to discuss how we may assist you: www.familylawresults.co.nz

3 Comments
  1. Cheryl Simes permalink

    Okay, Selina, this is even better than most of your earlier blog posts. Isn’t it time there was a link to your blog from the Family Law Section’s newsletters and LawPoints? Or at least send it to the Family Advocate for reprinting…. 🙂

    • thefamilylawyer permalink

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Cheryl. Appreciate your support as always. Finding time to write it my biggest challenge these days!

  2. Hi There. I am advising a friend here in Australia regarding his very messy family law issues. I came across your web site and I just wanted to tell you that I am thoroughly impressed by the practical advice, the clarity of the information, and your professional attitude. Well done!
    If we were in NZ I’d certainly be telling him to give you a call.

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