By Nicola Poole, family solicitor
As a family lawyer, I am not going to pretend that going through a separation or divorce is anything other than a sad, painful and unpleasant time. I know too that sometimes it even has to get worse before it can get better. Every single case I see is different from the last but what my clients have in common is that they are going through one of the toughest times of their lives.
January is the busiest time of year for divorce lawyers, and couples may have gone through one difficult Christmas too many or made New Year’s resolutions to finally come to see me. Along with all of the family solicitors at Hedges, I am a member of Resolution a National group of over 5,000 family lawyers who are committed to helping our clients divorce with dignity and respect.
We subscribe to a Code of Practice that encourages a constructive and non-confrontational approach to try to resolve matrimonial issues with the minimum of cost, both financial and emotional. We also ensure that the interests of any children in a marriage are placed as a priority. During separation or divorce proceedings emotions will often be running high. You may feel angry or betrayed. You may want to take immediate action.
I can point out a number of pitfalls to avoid and suggest a number of positive steps you can take to reduce the potential conflict.
Here are a few:
- Speak to your chosen solicitor on the telephone before arranging a meeting. Just like other important professionals in your life, it is important that you have someone you trust and ‘click’ with.
- Think about taking your friend or close relative with you to the first meeting with your solicitor: it can help to have someone run back over what you talked about afterwards.
- Take along a list of questions you want to ask your solicitor at the first meeting. The expression ‘stress makes you stupid’ is not a joke: when you are under stress you actually don’t think as clearly or retain information! It can be annoying if you forget to ask something really important
- Talk to your solicitor at a very early stage about alternatives to litigation such as mediation or collaborative law.
- Don’t let guilt cloud your judgment. As a general rule, the reason why the marriage broke up in the first place will have no bearing at all on how the matrimonial finances are dealt with. Just because you are the one pushing for divorce doesn’t forfeit your entitlement to a fair share of the finances.
- Don’t be frightened of legal letters or the legal process. If you don’t understand the terminology used, just ask your solicitor to explain. If letters from your ex’s solicitors frighten you, don’t let yourself get into a panic: just ask your solicitor to tell you what they mean.
- Do what you can to become as knowledgeable as possible about your family finances. I often see people who have never had to deal with money matters during the marriage and have no idea where to start now. If you can start to get up to speed with how things are operating financially, it will help your solicitor to advise at an earlier stage and increase your own confidence in starting to handle your own finances. Don’t panic if you can’t though: your solicitor will explain how full financial information can be obtained from your ex.
- Try not to treat your solicitor as a counsellor. Whilst your family solicitor will expect tearful times on occasions, and is generally more than happy to discuss the emotional fall-out of your marriage as much as the legal, it is worth thinking about being referred to a good counsellor to help you cope with any trauma and heart-ache. This might also enable you to be more focused on the legal aspects of your case.
- Think about timing. You may have been thinking about a divorce for years whereas your partner may only have received the news a matter of weeks ago. When people are in shock, taking any decisions at all can be nigh on impossible and when emotions are high, reasoning is low. Expecting your spouse to discuss future living arrangements at a time when they are still reeling from the news that you want to end the marriage, may be unrealistic. You might have to slow down for a while, be patient, and wait until they are ready to move things forward. Where matters do need to be moved along, your solicitor can help make this happen.
- Do be ready to compromise: the arrangement worked out between you and your ex is far more likely to be a success than an order imposed by a Court.
I loathe going to the dentist. It can take me weeks to pluck up the courage to telephone for an appointment and I sit in the dentist waiting room literally shaking head to toe.
I know that many of my clients will go through the same thing waiting to see me, but with over 20 years experience specialising in family law, I am quickly able to assess their situation and together we can work out the best way forward.