Just because you’re separating, doesn’t mean you need a lawyer. In fact, many separating couples manage without.
Here are some things you don’t need a lawyer for:
1. A verbal relationship property agreement
If you’re on good terms with your partner and have a high degree of trust between you, then you can have a verbal agreement about how you will split your assets (rather than a written, signed & witnessed relationship property agreement). This will save you time and lawyer’s fees. I’d only recommend this if you don’t own large assets such as a family home.
You could visit a Community Law Centre (http://communitylaw.org.nz/free-legal-help/) or Citizens Advice Bureau (http://www.cab.org.nz/vat/fp/r/Pages/Relationshipproperty.aspx) for information.
2. Dissolution of marriage (getting a legal divorce)
This mainly involves filling in forms and often a divorce lawyer can’t add much value to this process. Do it yourself and save time & money.
Go to a counsellor or psychologist, but don’t use your divorce lawyer – there is a clear boundary there. A counsellor has the right skills and tools to help you. Your lawyer should be able to recommend someone in your area.
There are times when you’ll need a lawyer, but you may not need someone with specialist family law skills, for example:
4. New will
Many lawyers will have the skills to assist you making a new will.
5. Establish/change a family trust
A trust lawyer is best placed to help you.
6. Equal division
If you are separating and need a written agreement, but your case is not complex, then you might not need a divorce barrister. For example, if you agree on the split of assets and agree there are no ongoing maintenance costs for children or each other. Most lawyers will be able to draw up the paperwork for you and witness you signing the agreement. Note for this to be legally binding, you’ll each need your own lawyer (i.e. to have received independent legal advice).
The Ministry of Justice website is an excellent source of information: https://www.justice.govt.nz/family/separation-divorce/
If you are separating, you might not need a specialist divorce lawyer. Gather information about your case and the law. Divorce lawyers can be part of your toolbox, but counsellors, accountants and friends are also very important.