From an Engineer to pseudo para-legal
2014 was a very challenging period for me as I was going through separation and divorce. It was challenging on an emotional, spiritual, physical, mental and financial level. I didn’t know where to start, who to ask for help, or who to speak to. Only Google came to my rescue. I searched for “divorce” and I came across this website www.liv.asn.au, a website for Law Institute of Victoria .The website provides legal referral service here in Australia. Through LIV I got in touch with a lawyer who explained the separation and divorce process to me; but more importantly made me aware of a potentially bigger issue. Safety was a major concern and I was advised to find a rental accommodation, move there first without informing the ex-husband, and then send a legal notice of separation to him.
I didn’t know until I met the lawyer that I was a victim of emotional, financial, spiritual and physical abuse. My few close friends agreed with the lawyer and so I moved out of my matrimonial home before the lawyer served the initial notice of separation.
The ticking time bomb
I was dealing with an ex-husband who was not cooperating during the property settlement process. His delay tactics, in addition to dealing with the grief of a dead relationship, caused me great emotional distress. This delay was a ticking time bomb because of the time limitations in settling property issues in Australia. Here, the legal separation period is one year and the time limit to apply for property settlement for married couples is within 1 year of a divorce becoming absolute. i.e. if the court issues a Certificate of Divorce on 15th June 2015 then the application to the court for property settlement must be made before 15th June 2017. In other words, Australian law allows two years from the date of separation to apply for property settlement.
A money sucking parasite enters the mix
The first lawyer I hired was a money sucking parasite. In order to apply to the court for property settlement the lawyer needed to prepare an affidavit on our behalf. The following information had to be provided:
- Your full name
- The spouse’s full name
- [Children’s details] : not applicable for me as I don’t have kids
- Date of birth for each
- Address for each
- Marriage date
- Date of commencement of cohabitation
- Date of separation and under one roof/separate roof
- Your income, assets, liabilities, contributions, expenditure
Being an Engineer and a detailed person, I worked hard for 2 days to assemble what was needed. I organized all my bank statements for the period we were together (18 months) into excel. I highlighted mine and my ex’s credit/debit expenses towards the home on the bank statements in different colors, and inserted the final amount in the draft affidavit with all other required information attached. This, along with the physical copies of everything, was delivered them to the lawyer.
Later, the para-legal claimed to work on the affidavit for 3 weeks and sent me a bill of $6000 for a 3-pages affidavit that was identical to what I had created. I asked her to review the bill and she refused. I had no other choice but to withhold my payment and find another lawyer.
Litigation and enlightenment
So now I was in a litigation with the one who was supposed to represent me!
I had to hire a separate solicitor to review the preliminary bill sent to me by the first lawyer. That is when I discovered that lawyers usually charge in units. The paralegal had charged me 6 units to prepare the 3 page affidavit. 1 unit = 10 minutes, which means the paralegal took 60 minutes to copy-paste the affidavit from my document to theirs with their legal letterhead.
The lesson I learned from this is no matter how high emotions run (and during a divorce they run high), understand the legal process and be clear minded and thorough with how you handle property settlement and numbers.
Income, Assets, Liabilities, Contributions and Future Needs…A Life Lesson
My new lawyer was recommended to me by my University Professor. He was a religious Jewish man with an educative approach towards all his litigation matters. At our first meeting he said, “Swachchanda, you are an Engineer so I am going to educate you about property settlement and 5 important things which can be carried over as a life-lesson beyond this litigation phase.”
Property settlement revolves around 5 key things:
- Income : simple; if you work, how much do you earn?
- Assets : do you own any property, car, jewelry, shares, superannuation ?
- Liabilities : do you have a mortgage, personal loan, car loan, unsecured finance?
- Contributions : How much do you contribute both financially(i.e. expenses) and non-financially (i.e. caring for children, are you a homemaker/housewife, household chores and duties, looking after parents etc)?
- Future Needs : your ability to earn, and if you have children, then child care, your health – not in a capacity to earn?
HE EMPOWERED ME! I went home and during the weekend I prepared a new affidavit with great enthusiasm. Now, I actually enjoyed the litigation process because I felt financially and legally empowered. I copy-pasted the spreadsheet into the affidavit, and created colorful pie charts and pivot tables – as if I was enthusiastically turning in a school assignment! During this exercise I realized my ex-husband’s claims were all bullocks and that he had calculated monies spent even on the groceries into his affidavit. It affirmed my decision to divorce the man.
I realized my financial contributions to the marriage was more than I had initially envisaged, even without considering puny amounts spent on entertainment and food! My lawyer said, ” Swachchanda, this is the best affidavit I have ever seen in my entire career! You have officially made me job-less!” Hearing that made me feel like a happy puppy given a treat for a job well-done!
My lost self-esteem soared back – okay, maybe in trickles – but I could finally say something positive about myself after an 18 month debacle!
Whether in litigation or not, be financially empowered! Know your income, assets, liabilities, contributions, and future needs! If you have to, create those beautiful pie charts to gain clarity on where you are and where you want be. Reduce “the stress of not knowing fully” from your life! What financial legacy are you leaving?
Be financially empowered!
Have a question for me, or want to talk more about this issue? Join me at Sakshi’s Corner.
Swachchanda (Sakshi) Awasare
Guest writer: ALVN