It’s often a daunting task to start divorce proceedings, especially when it’s taken so much from you emotionally to get to this point. This blog is designed to guide you through the process and make it as simple as possible to understand your next steps. It really should be one step at a time.
How to find the right specialist
Choosing a Family Law specialist who is the ‘right’ fit for you is a difficult task, the importance of which shouldn’t be underestimated. This is the person who you are trusting to represent your best interests in finding a solution which provides you with the best possible platform to move on with your life post-separation.
Individuals are often used to the aggressive and confrontational way Divorce Lawyers are represented on American television shows and may think it is in their best interests to find a specialist with a similar style. This is not necessarily true. Family Law in England and Wales has changed significantly in recent decades. Family lawyers should help you find the best solution as amicably as possible, minimising emotional damage and costs which are incurred along the way. Family lawyers who are a member of Resolution are committed to a Code of Practice which promotes a constructive approach to resolving family issues.
Although during your initial consultation with a family lawyer, they will be able to discuss process options with you in detail, it is worth doing some research before you choose a lawyer. For example, if you are interested in the Collaborative Law model, both you and your spouse will need to instruct a lawyer who is collaboratively trained.
There has been a shift away from the average ‘high street’ lawyer who practices multiple areas of Law, and an increase in the demand for specialisms. You should question how an individual could truly ‘specialise’ in five areas of Law, for example. Individual specialisms within family law can go even further. You should consider what the issues are in your case and then whether you should instruct a family law specialist with experience in divorces for example involving business assets or military pensions.
Finally, before choosing a family law specialist, you may seek to draw upon the experiences of others. You could find this out by reading online reviews or by speaking with friends and family and other professionals who have had dealings with family lawyers. Remember to ask for their opinion of both their lawyer and the lawyer on the other side – it’s not uncommon for us to receive recommendations from the former spouse of our clients!
Funding Legal Advice
Legal aid has been significantly cut by the Government in recent years. There is now a two-stage test for eligibility:
1. Firstly, there must be a history of domestic abuse (evidenced by various documents), or a child must be at immediate risk of harm;
2. Secondly, you must pass the means-testing criteria.
If this applies to your case, you should check your eligibility here: https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid
Although a specialist should seek to minimise costs, there are unavoidable cost associated with divorce proceedings. It may be necessary to find the money to obtain legal advice so that you can make a claim against a large matrimonial asset such as the family home or a pension pot. This is an important investment in your future.
Where there is a property which is likely to be sold as a result of divorce proceedings, there may be funding options available to you such as litigation loans. You may need to find the money to start the process so that the specialist can explore such options with you. You should consider what resources are available to you such as taking out a credit card or loan or borrowing from family and friends.
‘Free Half-Hour’- A False Economy?
Often individuals contact us, expecting us to be able to give them an answer over the phone as to what percentage of the equity in the family home they are entitled to. Unfortunately, there is ‘no one size fits all’ answer (if there were, we’d be out of a job!)
Individuals may be enticed by the offer of a ‘free half-hour’ appointment elsewhere, however, this is something of a false economy. Specialists can only provide you with legal advice tailored to your unique situation by applying the law to the facts, and collating those facts takes time. For this reason, a ‘free half-hour’ is usually little more than an information-gathering exercise and you will then ultimately need to book in for another consultation to receive any specific advice. People find this process frustrating because, naturally, they will want to receive advice, guidance and solutions as soon as possible. Don’t forget that your time is valuable too. Finding time for two appointments may be difficult and involve taking holiday or unpaid leave from work.
With this in mind, we offer our clients access to a web application, Engage, in advance of their appointment. Engage captures all of the information from you that would traditionally be gathered in a ‘free half-hour’. This means you are able to get more out of your appointment as the specialist will have been able to consider your individual circumstances and prepare for that consultation, offering bespoke advice from the outset.
Engage eliminates the risks associated with providing this information under the pressure of a meeting. Information provided in your own time is likely to be more accurate. In turn, this results in more accurate advice being given to you and avoids the need for numerous emails to your solicitor with further information and numerous emails from them correcting their advice in light of the same. Again, this can be timely and expensive for you as a client.
Completing Engage allows you to focus your mind on the issues and may even make you consider things you’ve not thought of before which can help kick start negotiations with your spouse. It gives you the opportunity to think about what’s important to you and let the specialist know in advance of your appointment so that they can tailor their advice around this.
What other support might you need?
Although a specialist should seek to minimise conflict, a divorce can be a stressful and emotionally draining process. Whilst a family lawyer should be empathetic, it’s important to remember they are not trained counsellors or therapists and they may, at times, have to give you tough advice.
You should therefore consider what other support you may need to help you through the process. Engaging with a qualified therapist or counsellor may be greatly beneficial. Furthermore, you may need to find a way to work with your spouse to navigate the separation and for the purpose of co-parenting. A family consultant may be able to assist you in doing so.
If you do not know where to find such services, you should speak with your family lawyer who will be able to make recommendations for you.
Family Law Partners is a specialist family law firm and we are committed to advising clients on all of their options, and where possible work with them to find solutions that avoid the traditional court process. Please contact us for an initial conversation