Clients separating from their partners - what do you do next?

Relationship breakdowns are emotional and can be complex. While it marks the end of one thing, it often begins something new, with the path to separating any shared assets rarely straightforward.

This is where the family lawyer and the tax professional enter the fray, to help their client navigate the emotions and the commercial realities of the separation. 

In October 2018, Rishi Wijay, (Klimek & Wijay Family Lawyers) presented the session ‘Your client tells you that they are separating from their spouse or de facto partner. What do you do next?’ at WA's ‘The Client Life Cycle: challenges and opportunities’ event.

We spoke to Rishi about some of the issues facing advisers.

“When a long-standing client of a tax professional tells them that they are separating from their de facto partner or spouse, a difficult journey begins for the client and their trusted adviser. I want to trace that journey from a family lawyer’s perspective, and try to offer some insight into how the tax professional can assist the family lawyer in achieving the right outcome for their mutual client.”

Rishi covered the basic four-step process that applies to most family law property settlements, and the key stages in resolving a family law matter, and at which stages in the process can the tax professional provide valuable input.

He said, “At the end of the process, when your client finalises their property settlement with their former de facto partner or spouse, what feedback do you want them to give to you?” “I would guess that for most of us, the answer involves (1) that the client appreciates that you were especially supportive during a difficult time; (2) that you provided valuable input where required; and (3) that you worked well with the family lawyer to reach a good outcome in the most sensible, commercial, timely and amicable way possible.”

“I assume that if that is the feedback, you have a very good chance of retaining the client and strengthening the client relationship for the longer term. That initial question – what feedback would you hope your client gives you at the end of this process – will be the starting point for the session.”

Covering some potential nightmare scenarios for the tax professional, Rishi also looked at Binding Financial Agreements as a way of protecting family wealth from being decimated by a divorce.

The paper he presented at the event is available to view here.

Rishi is the Managing Director of Klimek & Wijay Family Lawyers. His firm has a team of seven lawyers who practice exclusively in family law.

Alongside his legal qualifications, Rishi has considerable commercial experience and qualifications. A trusted adviser to mutual clients of significant Perth accounting firms, commercial lawyers, financial planners and medical professionals, he has also guest lectured at the University of Western Australia and presents at professional events.

“After graduating with a degree in law and commerce, I have spent the last 12 years practising exclusively in family law. Both of my parents are accountants, and most of my aunties and uncles are accountants, so my decision to become a lawyer, rather than an accountant, was considered a family tragedy. As my practice progressed into primarily complex financial matters, the overlap with taxation issues was ever increasing, along with the need to work collaboratively with tax professionals. Now my family is less disappointed”, he joked.

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