Following the 2012 legal aid cuts and the recent launch of an online application system, the number of individuals undertaking so called ‘DIY divorces’ is on the rise, but is this the best approach? Whilst a DIY divorce may seem attractive, the true cost, both financial and emotional, may be far greater than expected.
Making the most of your legal protection
The key to achieving a fair and sustainable settlement, whether in relation to finances or child arrangements, is rooted in a clear understanding of your legal rights. Without the benefit of legal advice, it is easy to get distracted by myths and end up spending a great deal of time, money and energy focussing on issues which are not legally significant. For example, it is a common misconception among litigants in person that if the reason for the divorce is the perceived unreasonable behaviour of one party or adultery, then the offending party will be punished in the financial remedy ordered by the court. These misconceptions can cause a great deal of frustration with the court’s approach to the divorce, as well as increased tension between the parties at a time where co-operation is vital. The support of a solicitor will keep you focused on the legal issues and ensure that you are protected from being bullied into agreeing a settlement or child arrangements that are impractical, unfair or may leave you financially vulnerable.
Putting the children first
When reviewing child arrangements, the child’s welfare will always be the court’s paramount consideration. As a parent, this will of course be your priority too, although in the context of contentious divorce proceedings, parents can sometimes lose sight of this. When undertaking a divorce, it is important to consider not only the immediate impact of child arrangements, but how arrangements may shape your children’s future. Whilst you are the expert on your children, the benefit of taking advice (not only from lawyers but therapists, mediators or coaches) is that you can draw on their expertise about how the separation will impact your children, both immediately and in the long term. This will allow you the space to be guided by your head instead of your heart, and ultimately gain the best result for your children.
Your lawyer can advise you on the ways of achieving the best outcome for your children, whether that is through mediation, attending co-parenting therapy or seeking advice from a co-parenting co-ordinator. In many cases, the best outcome is achieved outside of the court system. Taking advice will help to put some distance between you and the legal minutiae, so that you can focus on how best to shape your new life, and those of your children.
Are you getting the full picture?
When considering a settlement, it is essential to have a full and detailed picture of both parties’ financial positions. If you are doing it yourself, you will need to consider if there has been proper disclosure. Are you confident that you have the full facts and financial information to enable you to agree an appropriate settlement? You should consider whether you are clear on your ex’s pension assets, income structure or investment portfolio. Are the values being used for the various assets accurate? Are there assets that could or should be liquidated to provide you with a better home, for example, even if they are not in your name?
This is a chance to start over, but you need to make sure that any agreement you reach with your ex gives you enough financial stability, from all the assets available, to do this. Whilst both parties have a duty of full and frank disclosure, your solicitor will ensure that no assets which could be vital to helping you build your new life are missed.
Many individuals begin the process of a DIY divorce with the hopes of getting a ‘quickie divorce’; the reality is quite different. The judiciary have recently reported that where people represent themselves, the time required to resolve issues relating to divorce is significantly greater than it would be if the parties were represented. As a result, the increase in people representing themselves has contributed to the ‘clogging up’ of the family court system.
Whilst it is easy to think that instructing a solicitor will lead you down a path of aggressive litigation, it is quite the opposite. Sensible, solution-focused advice can get you out of the marriage more quickly, more cleanly and potentially better protected. It is important to remember that taking legal advice does not mean you will end up in court. Mediation, round table negotiations and alternative dispute resolution are all available routes that could work more favourably for you than attempting to do it yourself. A good family lawyer will explain the different options and advise you in respect of settlement proposals, and help you try to achieve the best result without having to go the whole way through the costly court procedure.
Setting aside emotions
Going through a divorce can be highly emotional and stressful at the best of times. It is important to make sure not to get carried away with point-scoring negotiations and impractical proposals that are unsustainable or not financially viable. A good family lawyer will help to remove the sting from these emotionally charged discussions so that the divorce can progress to a speedy, practical and fair conclusion.
By Katie Spooner, Partner at Winckworth Sherwood