The most important thing to do is to read the court documents as calmly as possible. However, this is easier said than done!
It is extremely distressing to be served. So, here are a few pointers to help guide you through the initial shock of seeing your Court documents for the first time.
There will be two key documents. The first is the Initiating Application, the second is the Affidavit. No one can apply to the Court without an application, so this is the starting point.
Where is the Court?
First, take note of the ‘registry’, this tells you where the Court is. For NSW family law matters, the registry is likely to be Sydney, Parramatta and Newcastle. This is important because you will need to know where to go on your next Court date.
The type of Court can be confusing, for family law, there is the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia. There is no need for you to be concerned about the distinction. Most matters will be in the Federal Circuit Court.
Your next Court date.
Mark the calendar. Before your next Court date you should go and visit the Court, this will help you a lot when it is your time to go to Court! Get familiar with your travel arrangements, parking and the security process once you are at Court. You can also familiarise yourself with the Court building, identify where the Court room is that you will need to attend.
The Judge allocated to your matter will be noted on the documents. Take note of the Judge’s name.
Are the details correct?
Check the information on the Initiating Application, names, dates of birth etc, make sure they are correct. If not, make a note of these errors and you will get the chance to make a note of these when you complete your Response.
Review the Application
You will find the application within the Initiating Application, these will be titled, interim orders sought (what should happen in the meantime) and final orders sought (what should happen on a final basis). These are the Orders that the other party are requesting. I find that this aspect of the Court documents are often most distressing for clients. Please note that just because they are requested does not mean they are enforceable. A positive way of looking at the Orders sought is that you will finally have a clear indication of what the other party is wanting as an outcome and you can take time now to consider what you want as an outcome.
Review the Affidavit
This is usually difficult to read. For each paragraph take note of the following: Is the paragraph: true, false as it twists the truth, or false as it is completely untrue. Do not do any more than this at this stage. It will be wise for you to review the Affidavit in this mechanical way because your focus needs to be on telling your own story, you will not be able to tell your story if it is merely a reflection of someone else’s story.
Consider allegations made against you.
Act quickly. If it is alleged that you use drugs then go and get a drug test done. If it is alleged that you have mental health concerns, get a mental health report done. Be proactive. So often I hear people very upset about allegations made and so shocked that they don’t do anything proactive about it. Get busy.
What happens now?
Moving forward, you can come to an agreement (either through negotiations (in writing or verbally or through a lawyer), or alternatively, a Judge will make a determination.
If a Judge makes a determination, the outcome will not be based on what either of you think is best but rather, after taking into account the evidence presented, the Judge will decide on the outcome in accordance with the law. Therefore, if you cannot reach agreement, it is essential that you are very clear on what evidence will form a basis for your matter and also ensure that you are familiar with the law (the law includes the Family Law Act and Rules and also cases).
If you come to an agreement you will sign an agreement that the Applicant can present to the Judge and that will be the end of your matter in Court.
However, if you do not reach an agreement you will need to file a Response (along with your Affidavit). To do this you need to register to use the Commonwealth Courts Portal (you can google this).
Look after yourself!
Self-care is so very important throughout any family law process.