What exactly is a chronology in terms of family law and how should you best prepare one for your matter?
A chronology is simply a document that sets out the significant events and facts regarding your relationship, and might relate to parenting or property issues or both. It’s a way of sharing your story in detail that provides a roadmap of the relationship and breakdown, providing all the important dates and events and brief summaries of what occurred on those dates.
It forms part of the Case Summary Document that your lawyer will prepare for you for your court case, because judges often rely on chronologies to get a quick overview of the matter and to use as an ongoing reference tool. Similarly your lawyer will use it as a reference tool when drafting affidavits. A chronology may also be helpful in mediations.
Setting out key timelines in your matter, a chronology represents what you view as the major events of your relationship and its breakdown, and should be concise but include enough detail on the relevant matters to be useful to a judge or a mediator. It’s regarded as a “living document”, meaning it can be updated or adapted at any time as your matter proceeds.
Why you should prepare a draft chronology yourself
Preparing a draft chronology will help your family lawyer. To properly prepare for your case, your lawyer needs to anticipate arguments that may be raised by the other side, and deal with any potential shortcomings in your case. They need all the facts and details, even things that you are worried may be damaging to your case and would rather gloss over. It will simply never help you if your lawyer is blindsided at any stage of the proceedings.
If your family lawyer is to truly help you during this difficult time in your life, they really need as much information as you have in order to critically assess your matter, how it fits into the legal framework, and how best to advise you on your options for how to proceed, and what the likely outcomes will be. Remember: the more your lawyer knows, the better they will be able to help you.
Your family lawyer will have to put together a chronology anyway if your case is going through court, to file as part of your Case Summary Document, as courts often order that parties exchange this kind of information before the first day of a hearing. So it will help save you time and money if you prepare a draft chronology and bring it along to your first appointment with your lawyer. Be as comprehensive as you can–providing information in little random snippets out of order will only mean your lawyer will have to spend time to work out where the new information fits into your case.
There will be many processes involved in the resolution of your family law matter, and plenty of organising and producing documents throughout the process. It will save you money if you are able to limit the time your lawyer needs to spend on information-gathering. In other words, do as much of this ‘grunt work’ as you can yourself.
What to include in your family law chronology
Include only the relevant facts and not excessive detail. You should cover all relevant events as concisely as you can, and highlight any important events or dates. Include essential biographical information and details about dates of cohabitation, marriage, separation, dates and places of birth of any children, dates relevant to parties becoming Australian citizens or permanent residents, factual information relating to the relationship from outside Australia, any family violence events, and so on. Make sure you clearly identify the source of the information from which events in the chronology are drawn.
How to decide what to include
Consider how important a piece of information is to the issues in your case—however, if in any doubt, just include it and allow your family lawyer to decide whether it is relevant. Another aspect that you should consider is whether the information pertains to material that can be put in evidence, which would increase the reliability of your chronology in court.
What is not needed in your family law chronology
Remember that your chronology should only set out information that is relevant to your case as well as basic factual detail. Irrelevant information might be details of your past life history, any personality disorders you suspect your ex suffers from, or anything else that simply isn’t relevant to your case. There’s also no room for opinion in your chronology. Another point to be aware of is to either exclude, or identify separately, events which are not in evidence.
Two methods for creating a family law chronology
There are two ways you can present chronological information. Firstly, you can use the conventional table format for a chronology, which is usually a simple three column format with the date in the left column, event in the middle and any notes or source information in the righthand third column.
“04.07.71 Husband born in London, UK.
05.01.72 Wife born in Forster, NSW.
23.03.78 Husband migrated to Australia.
13.06.91 Husband became an Australian citizen.”
Secondly there is the narrative method. This describes each event in a more conversational style and may draw together facts that are related but don’t occur on the same date. For example:
“1. The husband was born in London, UK, on 04.07.71. He migrated to Australia on 23.03.78. He became an Australian Citizen on 13.06.91.
2. The wife was born in Forster, NSW on 05.01.72.”
The narrative method is a bit more flexible and it has the advantage of also mirroring how summaries of facts are made in judgments, namely using the narrative style rather than the tabular one.
Deciding on which method to use is a matter for personal preference, but your lawyer should be able to advise you on the method they prefer for you to supply your chronological information. And whichever method you go with, make sure you make it user-friendly, both in content and in format.
If you need assistance with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.