Delivering Bad News

January 12, 2023

POSTED BY: Zoë Bloom

Clients come to family law practitioners looking for guidance and in turn we want to be clear about the likely outcome they face. If we can do that, then the family has a better chance of a quick settlement which contains costs and limits risk. Annoyingly, the discretionary nature of this area of law means we cannot accurately predict the outcome at trial. But we can get close. And the more we read the law reports, the more we are in court and listen to what is being said by the Judges and the more alert we are to coming changes, the better we can advise.  

Despite the wide discretion of the court, there are some things we do know: (a) paying parties are likely to have to pay more than they want to pay; and (b) recipients are likely to receive less than they want to receive. Expectations are shaped by things individuals think are important/fair/right and often in practice those things just..….aren’t.  

The thing is, as good practitioners we know this from the start. We know what the court will and will not think is relevant. We know it won’t want to pick over decisions made during the marriage. We know that if there isn’t enough money to buy two houses it is unlikely to matter where the money came from. We know things the client doesn’t want to hear.

But we have to tell them.  

That is our job.  

It may not make us likeable or appear sympathetic. We risk the instruction. And it’s hard - particularly when faced with impressive bullish characters who expects things to go their way. Or weaker bullied parties. But we still have to tell them. And we need to remind ourselves to have confidence in delivering bad news. It is what we are paid to do.