From what we often read in the headlines, the possibility of an amicable divorce would seem elusive. However, it might come as some surprise to learn that the majority of clients that contact Smith & Co Solicitors for family law advice have already sorted things out between themselves, reached an agreement and just need the help of solicitors to formalise it in a legally binding document. This is often because there may be a house to transfer or a parenting plan that needs to be documented and they recognise the value of putting their efforts on a legal footing.
The divorces you tend to hear most about are what we refer to as ‘bar-room’ divorces where friends, male or female, may discuss the headlines of their divorce agreement such as ‘she took me to the cleaners’ or ‘he never paid me a penny’. This is rarely the full story as there may be other aspects of the financial settlement that the person did not share, but after a few drinks, as they say, why let the truth get in the way of a good story?!
The truth lies in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1975 that requires matrimonial settlements to achieve fairness. This is why the starting point is 50:50 but may not end up as that due to a number of other factors that have to be considered in order to achieve fairness. However, it should be remembered that fairness does not always mean equality. What is great about this is that every matrimonial settlement is considered on a case by case basis as no two family circumstances are the same. What is not so good is that it is difficult for the couple to know where fairness is which often increases the need to rely on family lawyers to step in.
At Smith & Co Solicitors, we encourage our clients to stay engaged in the process as much as possible. Reaching an agreement on most aspects of the settlement, if not all of it, has a value as it helps to preserve the relationship. This is especially important if there are children, as well as helping to keep the legal costs down by avoiding the need for lawyers to write long letters. We guide you through the process known as disclosure where you and your spouse exchange financial information and documentation. This can be a difficult task but without it, it is very difficult for the parties to reach an agreement.
Divorce and dissolution of civil partnerships should be a team effort. We understand that it can be an emotionally harrowing time but the more we can get our clients to switch on, the better the outcome and that is not just in terms of financial security, but how well you recover and adjust to the next chapter of your life.
This can take different forms:
Since Her Majesty’s Courts set up a new on-line portal, the number of people starting their own petitions on line has seen a staggering uptake, most notably with 26 applications on Christmas Day 2019! The online process is user friendly but for those with more complex finances or child arrangements, we recommend that you have the form reviewed before you click and send or for peace of mind, have the lawyer complete the form on your behalf.
Lawyers work closely with local mediators and their services can be interchangeable during the whole process. Some clients start in mediation and may need to check in with a solicitor to give them confidence in that the agreement they have reached. Other times solicitors will refer clients to mediators as they are mutually committed to achieving an agreement and once done, can return to the solicitor to have it drawn up in a legally binding agreement, known as a Consent Order.
In the event that mediation breaks down altogether, a solicitor can pick up from where the mediator was able to get to and hold the client’s hand through the next steps, even if that includes making a financial application to court.
The Family Courts have been hard hit by the Stay At Home measures and inevitable delays have ensued. This has shone a light on arbitration as an alternative route to seeking a legally binding decision when couples are unable to reach one themselves. Governed by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CiARB) couples must both elect to enter into the process and agree to be bound by the final decision. In doing so, the couple can choose their arbitrator by vetting their professional credentials (often retired judges) and benefitting from having the same arbitrator throughout, thereby not being hampered by court delays and last minute changes.
Arbitration is being more commonly used in private child law cases where couples are unable to agree arrangements for their children or specific issues around things such as: where the child goes to school or moving a child to a different area or country.
- Seek initial advice early – even if you feel you are not emotionally ready, gathering information can be empowering and settle some of the thoughts that are running through your head.
- Bring a friend or family member to the initial appointment but only if you are happy divulging your most private information in front of them. Apparently, we only recall 30% of any information received in a face to face meeting so it is helpful having a sounding board to discuss it with someone after the meeting.
- Get all your paperwork together. Locate the marriage/civil partnership certificate together with all your financial information, pay slips, pension statements, mortgage statements joint and sole savings etc. Your spouse/partner will be responsible for theirs, so you do not need to do both.
- Make sure you feel you have a good ‘fit’ and rapport with your legal advisor. Ask friends and family for recommendations and take the time to contact a couple of firms to choose the right one for you.
Smith & Co
We are a small friendly firm that prides ourselves on forming positive relationships with our clients and being on hand throughout the process. Initial meetings can be by telephone or video link or face to face when social distancing restrictions are lifted. During the process, most communications are done by email or telephone so distance is not an issue these days. We also have a helpful link on the family page of our website that means you can start an enquiry online. Simply enter your basic information so we can assess your circumstances before the initial meeting.
We listen to the feedback from our clients and know that legal costs are a big part of the process. After the initial meeting, we give a realistic estimate as to the likely costs of your case and various options as to how legal services can be funded. Costs will never spiral out of control as we keep you updated on a monthly basis, so you know where you are.
For more information on landlord and tenants issues, call Keith Holland at Smith & Co Solicitors on 01473 228016.