Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Here at FamilyProperty, we make it our business to understand our subscribers and are committed to working with them to ensure that their businesses thrive. We’re proud to shine a light on their diverse journeys. This week, FamilyProperty’s Stefanie Costi sits down for a chat with family law mediator and family dispute resolution practitioner, Julia Barling.
Stefanie: What led you to becoming a mediator and family dispute resolution practitioner?
Julia: I practised as a lawyer for over 18 years and worked with a lot of mediators over the years. When I saw the increasing pressure on the court system and the impact that was having on my clients, I decided to change the focus of my work to mediation and family dispute resolution so I could help people not end up in court or help them quickly resolve their issues after they had initiated court proceedings.
Stefanie: Congratulations on starting your own mediation and family dispute resolution practice in 2021. What has been the most rewarding part?
Julia: I love being able to be completely flexible. I am not bound by the policies and procedures of a big firm. If it suits me and all the participants to have a mediation on a Sunday afternoon so no one needs to have time off work or have someone babysit their kids, that’s what we do!
I also love that it is my job to be completely neutral and to reality test the proposals being made by both parties in real time rather than spending weeks or months (and lots of my client’s money) writing letters back and forward.
Stefanie: What has been your most memorable matter to date?
Julia: I have had some really interesting cases to date but I think that my most memorable was trying to work out an interstate shared care arrangement for a very much loved pooch. We did not have to think about school holidays thankfully, but COVID-19 caused some very significant issues with border closures because parenting plans for dogs are not recognised by border control checkpoints!
Stefanie: What do you think the most common challenge is for family law clients at the moment?
Julia: COVID-19 and home learning has been a huge challenge for a lot of my clients. Also, the uncertainty associated with repeated lockdowns has been making people very nervous about making long-term financial decisions.
Overall, though, I think that the crushing costs associated with family law proceedings has a huge impact on all of my clients as it often limits their options. That is why I am really encouraging them to focus on working together to reach agreement about their family law issues without the need for court proceedings.
Stefanie: What can everyone involved in family law and children’s law matters can do better?
Julia: Be kinder to each other. A lot of lawyers still seem to think that being aggressive in their correspondence is doing the best for their client without thinking about the impact that has on the future co-parenting relationship between the parties and on the children that are often caught in the middle. If there are tricky or sensitive issues, I encourage lawyers to pick up the phone and talk to the other lawyer involved to try and find a way forward instead of getting into the horrible cycle of nasty letters and emails going back and forth.
Stefanie: Has COVID-19 presented your practice with any challenges? If so, what are they and how do you plan to overcome them?
Julia: The biggest challenge that I have found has been not being able to go out and meet lawyers, accountants and other referrers in person.
Masks have also been a huge challenge for face-to-face mediations. Some clients have opted for Zoom mediations rather than wearing a mask the whole time. My solution for the mask situation is contact lenses to overcome fogging up my glasses!
COVID-19 has forced a lot of people to get over their initial reluctance to use technology for mediations and other meetings. It has also opened up opportunities for people like me who work regionally to conduct mediations anywhere across Australia.
Stefanie: You use FamilyProperty in your practice. What features do you like the most? Is there any other technology that you use in your practice that other mediators should benefit from?
Julia: FamilyProperty has three features which are incredibly useful to my practice. The first is the client intake questionnaire which gathers key information from my mediation clients. The second is the client portal that makes the disclosure process much more streamlined which can really assist the parties and lawyers involved. The third is the dashboard which I use to visually show my clients in mediations what their proposals look like and how they impact percentage distributions.
From my experience, FamilyProperty also makes it much easier for people to reach a sensible agreement about property issues because you can see the asset pool and all proposals in a visual tool which can be easily shared by Zoom.
Other technology that I use in my practice is Smokeball, Xero and Microsoft 365. I enjoy using Smokeball (legal practice management software) because it works seamlessly with FamilyProperty, precedents can be easily integrated, leads can be tracked before people become clients and emails can be kept organised.
Stefanie: What are you most looking forward to in the next year? Personally and professionally?
Julia: Personally, I am reflecting on the slower pace of life in 2020 and 2021 and will try and keep some of that as the world reopens and make deliberate choices about what me and my family do instead of trying to do everything.
Professionally, I hope to help as many families as possible to reach agreement about their children’s arrangements or property settlements.
Julia Barling is the Director of Barling Mediation. To find out more about Julia Barling or Barling Mediation, you can visit www.barlingmediation.com.au. You can also follow Barling Mediation on Instagram at @barlingmediation.