Divorce is something none of us ever really want, but when you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s what you need you might not know how to go about it.
How do I choose a divorce lawyer? How do I file for divorce? How much will it cost? And if you have children, what about them?
To help you work out what the right moves should be, we asked Ruth Bross, partner at London family law firm Bross Bennett LLP for her expert advice.
Divorce – what do I do first?
What do I do first?
Reaching the decision that a marriage is at an end is rarely something which happens overnight. It’s not a decision that anyone takes lightly. It can be a long process, on some occasions taking many years.
If you think your marriage might be in difficulty, don’t wait, go and see a relationship counsellor to see if things can be put back on track.
While it’s usually one person who decides that a marriage is at an end, it will take two of you to agree to go to a counsellor and try and understand the problems you are facing and whether they can be fixed.
Get in touch with Relate who will be able to help you. They have more than 600 locations around the country.
Sometimes people like to get some legal advice at this point, to try and understand the financial and other ramifications if they decide to separate or divorce and just as importantly to see if there are any other steps they should be taking to protect themselves if it looks as though the marriage is on the rocks.
Divorce – choosing a divorce lawyer
If you’ve decided that the marriage may be at an end, you will need legal advice to explain your options, help you understand what happens next, the possible results and the arrangements that will need to be made.
When a marriage breaks down, there are likely to be issues about the arrangements for the children, the home and the finances.
Choosing the right lawyer is far from easy but is an important decision. No one likes the idea of the money, but good advice costs and not getting advice or getting poor advice might end up costing you even more. Here are tips on what to look for:
1. Where to look
Get a personal recommendation if you can. If this is not possible, look at using a family solicitor who is a member of Resolution. Resolution is an association of family solicitors.
Resolution members are not only experts in family law – they have also signed up to a Code of Practice that agrees they will sort things out without getting into big arguments.
More details about Resolution can be found on their website. Don’t worry about seeing several solicitors before you make up your mind.
2. A matter of trust
Don’t forget you’re not looking for a counsellor, but someone you can trust to look after your interests, give you sensible advice and not just tell you what you want to hear.
It doesn’t matter how sympathetic and understanding a lawyer may be, remember this is not their main job.
They are there to offer you sound financial advice, but to do so in a supportive and informed way, so that you feel involved and not too separate from the process. You need to feel that you can work with them and that they are ‘on your side’.
Divorce – Top 3 tips for choosing a lawyer
1. Don’t just be guided by price
You need to find someone who does your sort of case, day in, day out. If your case is too tricky, they may not have the necessary skills. However, if it’s very straightforward, they may not be interested if they’re used to dealing with more difficult cases.
2. Don’t be scared of talking about costs
Solicitors have to tell you how they charge and give you the best estimate of what they think the case might cost.
The quickest route to problems between a solicitor and their client is confusion about costs. Find out how much money they’re likely to want when they’ll want it. If necessary, talk about how you’re going to pay it. These days it is difficult to get public funding but find out. Discuss the possibility of a loan.
3. Understand what’s involved
You need to know right from the start what’s involved with divorce proceedings – how long the whole case is likely to take, what will you need to do to prepare, what you’re trying to get out of it and, most of all, find out from the solicitor what they think they can achieve for you.
You can also make the most of the first meeting with your solicitor by taking with you full details about your family assets
* house value
* mortgage details
* life policies
You can also prepare a sheet setting out details of the date of the marriage, names and dates of birth of you and your husband as well as any children. This will save time and money at the first meeting.
During your case, respond to any request for information quickly. It may be that costs can be reduced by you preparing some of the information. Make sure that you understand what your solicitor is trying to achieve for you. While the solicitor is running the case, it’s your life and don’t think that any question you ask is a stupid question.
Divorce – Mediation and Collaborative Law
Mediation and Collaborative Law are other options to use, if you don’t want to go through the courts to resolve matters.
Think about and talk to your solicitors whether or not they think that these might work for you. In either case it’s important that both husband and wife are willing to understand the other’s view, and to make allowances.
Experienced mediators can help separating couples find common ground and help them to negotiate a settlement. Mediators can either be trained lawyers or from a counselling background. They will not give any advice. They will not take sides. If you are successful in reaching an agreement it will still need to be looked at by your solicitor and you may want to get legal advice during the mediation process about issues that arise. Mediation can be a very successful way of reaching an agreement on disputes relating to children.
Collaborative law is a fairly new approach. The clients and two solicitors agree to try to resolve things without going through the court.
The process involves a series of meetings with both clients and both solicitors trying to reach an agreement. If they don’t succeed then neither of the solicitors can then go through the courts to resolve the case.
The charges are often the same as solicitors, but if the process works it can be less destructive and sometimes cheaper than the more normal route. It is not for everyone, but is well worth considering.
Collaborative lawyers and mediators can be found by contacting Resolution.
Divorce – Further help
It may well be that as well as legal advice, you require some emotional support during the divorce process.
This could be in the form of counselling or family therapy for you and also for your children who may be finding the breakdown of their parents’ marriage difficult. Your solicitor will usually be able to recommend a counsellor.
You may also require other advice such as information about entitlement to welfare benefits, housing advice or tax advice. Again your solicitor should be able to provide contact details.
Have you had a divorce and have some tips you can share? Head over to our Facebook page to let us know how you handled it!