A practical guide for divorcing couples to help decide how to proceed
- Decide on the type of divorce relevant to your circumstances
- How complicated is your case?
- Can you afford a solicitor, and what is your budget?
- Choosing a solicitor who specialises in family law
- Shortlist a couple of potential solicitors
Divorce is one of life’s events that can affect health and wellbeing the most. It is often extremely stressful and sometimes it can be the worst experience a person has in life. Emotions run high on both sides of the equation and, you will be pushed to the boundaries of your comfort zone. You will probably feel hurt and perhaps even deceived and the future can seem uncertain. There will be a thousand factors occupying your thoughts and if you have children between you, it’s even more emotionally challenging.
For all sorts of reasons you may now be looking for a solicitor to help you through this. Having advised & represented thousands of people going through divorce, it may be useful if I share some of my own experiences with you and highlight a few factors you should consider when choosing the right solicitor for you.Cyrus Mansouri
Decide on the type of divorce relevant to your circumstances
First off cheap and easy, do-it-yourself divorces. I know you are expecting me to tell you these must be avoided at all costs. But no! That’s not what I think at all. I often get asked by prospective clients whether I think they could do their own divorce. The answer is quite simply ‘yes’; if you know what you are doing, or are willing to learn and suffer some delays, of course you can do it yourself.
There are also lots of online websites offering do-it-yourself divorces & are a perfect ‘fit’ for some divorcing couples. Remember filling in the divorce papers is not rocket science. In fact most of these online sites were set up by non-lawyers who employ staff (and more recently even AI computers) to fill up the forms for you. Often they will have one lawyer in the business, overseeing the work of many form fillers. The service is very basic. There is usually little human interaction. But if you are a couple who agree to divorce and have no assets to split and no differences of opinion over the upbringing of the children, then why not? It may take a little longer but these online sites will get the papers filled for you and filed at the court. These websites are however geared to absolutely straightforward divorces with no complications at all. Most of them will tell you that themselves. It is usually written somewhere on the website in small print. If you later encounter complications during the process, you will likely need to instruct a solicitor at that stage.
Don’t forget though that divorce is just the ending of the marriage contract. Any dispute regarding finances, indeed even any agreement regarding finances, is a completely separate matter and not covered by the ‘divorce’.
Divorce doesn’t have to be all out war with your former lover. Some, indeed most couples, manage to get through this with calm heads and thorough mediation and discussion. If you are one of these couples then perhaps you should consider getting a Family Mediator involved. There are plenty excellent mediators and you would probably not go far wrong just Googling around to see which is closest to you. Check them out and some will even offer you a short free telephone consultation to help you get the feel for the person you are dealing with. Remember, mediators are meant to remain impartial, so they can assist both you and your partner at the same time. As mediation progresses you may want to also have a consultation with your own solicitor for an hour or so to make sure everything is on the ‘right track’. This avenue can help save you money too as mediation costs are usually fixed in advance. If you reach agreement through mediation, your solicitor can then get it drawn up legally and sealed at court.
Mediation is certainly not for everyone. If this is the case you may find that your partner has already started a ferocious and, often unfair, legal claim against you. If this is the case, you will be looking for a solicitor who is also a litigator (that’s us). Don’t get me wrong, we don’t always have highly contenscious cases. We also act for lots of people who have reached agreements amicably and they just want to make sure that everything gets done properly and, most importantly, legally. But our bread and butter work tends to be litigation. That’s where couples are just so far away from reaching agreement that the only viable option is to take the matter to court.Cyrus Mansouri
How complicated is your case?
This depends on all sorts of factors. Sometimes you will have complicated finances or, you may be fortunate enough to have more or higher value assets and perhaps you feel that your partners demands are unfair. If you have children that too can be a complicating factor. Even if you agree on how much time the children spend with each parent, where the children live affects the financial division of assets. Maybe there are differences about who contributed what to the marriage or, assets that were acquired before the marriage; perhaps even investments, business interests, shareholdings… the list goes on.
Some cases are even more severe and involve years of abuse, violence and…. Well; you get the picture! In such a scenario, you may need an specialist accomplished solicitor.
Can you afford a solicitor, and what is your budget?
Your budget here is not what you have available, but rather part of what you seek by way of a financial settlement. Many people enter the divorce process with limited cash, but with significant financial disputes. A good solicitor can often help you obtain a ‘Litigation Loan’. These are secured against the properties in dispute (even if you don’t own them) and can cover your legal fees.
Alternatively, if you are financing this yourself, you will want to balance the overall likely costs, against the potential realistic goal. It may not be worth spending £1,000 to gain £3,000 but it may well make sense to spend £40,000 to end up with a final settlement that is £500k more than you were being offered at the start.
A good solicitor will usually give you a consultation at the start of the matter, do a realistic calculation of your best and, worst case scenario and, give you a realistic costs estimate. This will help you decide how to proceed.
Choosing a solicitor who specialises in family law
Be careful about just scouring the web for a divorce solicitor. Don’t be fooled by their state-of-the-art modern website or reviews. Be wary of the ‘price comparison sites’ that promise to link you up to a good solicitor. They usually have binding agreements behind the scenes with a select group of firms who pay them a commission for referring your work.
Different people may go through different experiences, and the result is not always the expected one. Online reviews are a good starting point, but not the ‘be-all’ of choosing. In my experience the absolutely best way of choosing a divorce solicitor is by referral from a friend, colleague or relative. Despite our website, almost 90% of our work comes from former client referrals. That is something we are immensely proud of because no matter what the competition do to advertise themselves, we just continue to receive a steady stream of new work, almost all of it referred to us by former happy clients.Cyrus Mansouri
If you find a solicitor online that catches your eye, invest in a consultation and see what you think after meeting them. Some firms will offer you a free consultation which is usually very short. We charge for ours, but by the end of the consultation, you will leave knowing exactly where you stand, what your best and worst case scenario is and what it is likely to cost you.
If you think that all the best solicitors have offices in Chancery Lane and you must have one of them, well that’s just fine, but make sure your cheque book is as sturdy as your ego.
Shortlist a couple of potential solicitors
Not all solicitors are the same; some are more approachable than others; some are only accessible when it’s time to pay. Shortlist a couple of solicitors that appeal to you and visit them for a consultation. Prepare a list of all your questions before visiting and always ask them to put their advice in writing afterwards, especially the costs estimates. Be wary of ‘too good to be true’ promises and if you see something marketed as ‘Free’; remember – sometimes you won’t be able to afford ‘FREE’!
Every solicitor can have a different approach or have a different perspective to a case. You may find that one of them comes across as the right fit for you.
Always remember when choosing a divorce solicitor you are also choosing a companion who is going to share the most traumatic period of your life with you and, the outcome of that period will be very much dependant on the advice and help of this new companion. Your solicitor is going to be your best friend for the duration of this divorce. You are going to tell them all sorts of things that you would not want anyone else to know. Make sure that you choose this new companion carefully. Some of my clients call me daily and it is not always to discuss their case. Often they are just having a really bad day and have hit panic mode. They need a pep talk or a pick me up chat. Rest assured this will happen, so choose someone who you can talk to and, who answers ‘your’ questions.Cyrus Mansouri