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Book re DIY divorce: Navigating the court system

A new book that may be of interest and use:

Breaking Up: A Self-Help Guide to the Courts and the Law (Robert Larkins)

Included is a radio interview with the author, Robert Larkins, a review from the Melbourne Herald Sun, and further details about the book.
Robert Larkins said
Many people who represent themselves in divorce proceedings, don't know enough about the legal system and what they may be entitled to.
Listen online to a radio interview from 2UE (27 June 2011, 11:11am), or download an MP3 (16MB) to listen offline:
Tim Shaw speaks with veteran barrister Robert Larkins, author of Breaking Up, who lifts the lid on de facto relationships detailing how you might not realise you are actually in one and the financial implications that apply.
Click on link to See Larkin's Sample Parenting Plan

Herald Sun (Melbourne)

DIY divorce: Navigating the court system
By Wendy Tuohy

25 June 2011

It's always better to settle for your slice outside the courts. But if you insist on representing yourself, barrister and author Robert Larkins has some advice for the DIY divorcee.

You have the feeling there's not much in the way of bad marital behaviour family lawyer Robert Larkins has not seen, particularly as marriages grind to a close.

A professional life spent watching couples battle their way through divorce - fighting not only each other, but their ignorance of the court system - has provided plenty of insight into the messier side of human nature.

On the up-side, Larkins says Australian divorces are not getting any nastier. But on the downside, the Melbourne barrister sees hundreds of people losing thousands of dollars, and plenty of heartache, while struggling to represent themselves.

It was seeing people "walking around in a confused state" in court that inspired Larkins to pen his frank divorce manual, Breaking Up. For starters, he observed that many people have no idea how much the divorce proceedings, let alone the eventual financial settlement, could cost. That cases taken to court routinely cost each party $30,000 to $50,000 (and often plenty more) comes as a shock to many. The fact the average family law solicitor costs $300 to $600 an hour, billed in six-minute intervals, is also often a surprise.

"The system's just not working well when you've got a mortgage on your home, and a bit of super and you have to spend those sort of bucks to get separated - that's not right, it's just too expensive," says Larkins, who candidly admits he has been "thrown out (of marriages) twice".

He understands why, with costs like these, 40 per cent of people in Australian divorces choose to represent themselves. But he also sees the many downsides of this, when hundreds - mainly women - go into court with no understanding of what to do.

The Federal Magistrates' Court, he says, supplies a single A4 page of information. "But you get in there and see people making botches of it. Judges cringe when someone's self-represented because they have got to be fair and can't give them legal advice when the other partner has a lawyer."

He says many people entering divorce are tempted, presumably by bitterness, to "fight on principle" over assets, and end up paying dearly for it. All it takes is for one partner to be completely unreasonable for what could have been a much less expensive, mediated settlement to turn into a financial catastrophe for both parties.

Divorcing couples usually fall into one of two groups - the most difficult for all concerned being the one in which tempers and legal actions fly. "One group says, 'This is a matter of principle, I worked my fingers to the bone and you are not going to get a penny of this money'. So you might say to them as a lawyer: 'This is going to cost you a fortune in legal fees,' and they say, 'I don't care, I'd rather you had it than she (or he) had it'. You hear it regularly," he says.

Despite his experience, Larkins sounds as if he struggles to believe people willingly make things worse. These are often intelligent people whose rational side evaporates during a divorce: "I think everyone's seen a normal person become completely irrational. It strikes the terror into you; you know you're not going to be able to have rational conversations."

Thankfully, the other group of clients holds on to its wits. They're people who say: "This is a commercial transaction, I want to get the best result for the cheapest price, like any other transaction. I want to get out of here and I don't want to spend $70,000 in legal costs. I want to get on with my life."

He says these more pragmatic people can settle cases out of court for a fraction of the cost - financial and emotional - faced by the other group. Needless to say, he advises clients and readers never to fight a case on principle.

As a family lawyer, Larkins could have sat back and continued to gain, financially at least, from protracted legal battles between divorcing couples. But seeing so many people at sea in the court system inspired him to address it.

People he saw representing themselves in the Family Court "had no idea how to cross-examine, how to negotiate with a lawyer and really no idea how to present their case in affidavits", says the author, whose previous book was on navigating the Australian funeral industry.

Seeing children suffering because of their parents' poor handling of separation was another motivator to write the book. One of the golden rules in Breaking Up is "don't denigrate the other parent to the kids". Such is the emotional impact of divorce, he says, that warring parents often forget - and must be reminded by the courts - that the interests of children are paramount.

Though his book could be seen to be encouraging people to run their court cases, Larkins says he has not written it as such. He reminds readers early on that if they can negotiate a settlement between themselves they can do a DIY divorce for less than $1,000.

Mediation is always the best way to come to agreements, and it is hoped a soon-to-be introduced arbitration system will also alleviate the need for as many court cases.

For those who do decide to drag themselves and their partner through court, Larkins hopes he has been able to furnish the necessary tools.

"The process is complex. (Self-represented divorcees) don't understand the difference between evidence and what they want. You see them trying to cross-examine and stopping halfway through when they get an answer they don't agree with. They have just no understanding of how it works."

Part of the problem is the structure of the Australian legal system: "To resolve disputes through the adversary system in court works fine in criminal trials, and can work with two major corporations disputing an issue … however, when it becomes a couple, the same regime doesn't work effectively at all."

When people do get through the system, Larkins says he is dismayed to see how many of them then "drift unconsciously" straight into another live-in relationship that can put them at risk again. New legislation governing the division of assets owned during de facto relationships effectively gives people who have lived with a partner for as little as two years very significant claims.

Divorcees considering a new relationship plunge "ought to read Chapter 26 (of Breaking Up)", he says. "You ought to be aware that even presenting to the world as a couple is part of a definition of being in a de facto relationship."

He warns that many people are ignorant of their responsibilities and the rights of partners under the new laws, and says he is already seeing men - and older women who start relationships with younger men - having serious problems due to the changes.

Unfortunately for the main earner, "the more generous you are to a partner, the more they can claim. If they've been financially dependent on you, your generosity can come back and bite you in the bum!"

He adds: "You used to think it was only men who had money and power (in relationships), but these days I know a lot of richer women who are in financial positions of power and support a younger man who could use the fact he's being supported as an example they are in a de facto relationship."

He says it is amazing how many people he meets who have not even finished their divorce case but turn up with a new boyfriend or girlfriend. "Some people just leap from one relationship to another - they're the particularly vulnerable ones," he says. "But (as if) anything I'm going to say in the book is going to stop them doing that!"

Breaking Up: A Self-Help Guide to the Courts and the Law, by Robert Larkins (Penguin, RRP $32.95).

Penguin Books 1

Breaking Up: A Self-Help Guide to the Courts and the Law
Author: Robert Larkins*

Published: 27/06/2011
Format: Paperback, 300 pages
RRP: $32.95
ISBN-13: 9780670075751
ISBN-10: 0670075752
Origin: Australia
Publisher: Penguin Aus.
Imprint: Viking

* Robert Larkins lives in Melbourne. He has been a barrister for over twenty years with a practice specializing in cases of domestic violence. He is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia. He has a practical relationship experience having been twice married and, as he says, thrown out on both occasions! He lives alone but is on exceptionally good terms with both exes  indeed this book is dedicated to one of them.

Penguin Books 2

Breaking Up: A Self-Help Guide to the Courts and the Law
By Robert Larkins

The break-up of a relationship is one of the hardest things you can go through. And during the confusion that accompanies it, you're supposed to make sensible decisions about the fair division of money, and possibly the future of your children.

Published: 27/06/2011
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780670075751
RRP: $32.95

Read more.

Available Online from Fishpond

Breaking Up: A Self-help Guide to the Courts and the Law
By Robert Larkins

RRP $31.64   Save $1.35
Free shipping Australia wide

Available Online from Boffins Books

Breaking Up A Self-Help Guide to the Courts and the Law
Author: Robert Larkins

Add this item to your shopping cart and buy online now! Price: $32.95

Availability: In stock.

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Subjects: Family Law

Published June 2011

Funeral Rights

PS The author, Robert Larkins, has also written a book about funerals and burials entitled "Funeral Rights: What the Australian 'death care' industry doesn't want you to know"]

Funeral Rights: What the Australian 'death care' industry doesn't want you to know
By Robert Larkins

How can a funeral director charge $700 for a chipboard coffin worth only $80? Why are there moves afoot to re-use graves in cemeteries? Can we choose to be buried in a cardboard coffin? Australia's 'death-care' industry is worth a staggering $700 million a year, and despite the fact that each of us will one day have to deal with those in the 'dismal trade',
few of us know how the business of dying

How can a funeral director charge $700 for a chipboard coffin worth only $80? Why are there moves afoot to re-use graves in cemeteries? Can we choose to be buried in a cardboard coffin? Australia's 'death-care'…

Published: 04/06/2007
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780670071081
RRP: $32.95

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