It’s not unusual for clients to be unsettled when they meet their divorce lawyer for the first time. And in much the same way that patients might bring a list of prepared questions with them when going to the doctor, it’s very helpful to prepare some questions before you meet your solicitor – or at least think carefully about what you should ask at that first meeting. In this article we look at some of the questions likely to be raised in the first meeting between a client and his or her divorce lawyer.
Why do I need a solicitor?
Divorce raises fundamental issues about property, finances and children. How these matters are settled will have a significant impact on your future. Legal advice from a specialist solicitor – even from a one-off consultation – can help you understand how a final settlement might look. At Brookman we offer a free consultation service that should provide you with a broad outline of what to expect from the divorce process. If you decide to instruct us to act for you in your divorce more detailed follow-up appointments will be essential.
How much will my divorce cost?
Apart from court fees that are fixed, the costs of your divorce will depend on the agreement you reach with your solicitor. Some firms will offer a fixed-fee package. While these may be suitable in cases where there are no complexities, you should take care when agreeing a fixed-fee to ensure you fully understand what is included and what isn’t.
Most solicitors will charge an hourly rate for certain elements of the case (attending court for example, or drafting a response to a divorce petition).
Can I discuss non-legal issues with my solicitor?
Remember you are paying your solicitor for technical legal advice. While a divorce lawyer should always be sensitive and sympathetic to the issues you face it’s not a good use of your money to seek emotional support from a lawyer that can be obtained elsewhere, from a family counselor for example.
Who pays for the divorce?
This will depend on your circumstances, often each spouse pays for their own legal fees. In some cases we will be able to agree responsibility for costs with your spouse.
How can I avoid upsetting or angering my spouse?
Divorce is a stressful process for everyone involved. Using a solicitor who knows how to handle sensitive or acrimonious situations can help you and your spouse deal with the divorce in a more positive way. Like many divorce lawyers, Brookman is a member of Resolution, the group of legal professionals that strives to find constructive, non-confrontational solutions to the issues raised by divorce.
How do I get a divorce?
You start by presenting a petition to the court. If the court is satisfied that the marriage has broken down irretrievably it will issue a decree nisi. So long as you or your partner don’t try to establish that the marriage hasn’t broken down, the decree nisi will become a decree absolute after six weeks. The process shouldn’t take more than a few months, however if there are disputes over finances or children, matters will usually take longer to resolve.
Can I throw my spouse out of the family home before the divorce is final?
It will depend on the circumstances. If the home is jointly owned it may be difficult to exclude your spouse from the property because he or she may retain a right of occupation. And even if the home is owned by you there may be occupation rights because of marriage and the fact that the property was a family home. If your spouse leaves the home voluntarily and subsequently wishes to return he or she may have to apply to court. Different factors will apply where there are allegations of domestic abuse. This is a complicated area and you should ask your solicitor for advice in light of your personal circumstances.
How will I manage my finances until my divorce comes through?
When couples separate it’s not unusual for responsibility for day-to-day finances to become an area of dispute. Who is responsible for mortgage payments and utility bills for example? What about expenses for the children? If agreement can’t be reached on these issues you should ask your solicitor for guidance. It’s probably a good idea to restructure joint accounts and direct debits so that one spouse does not spend monies they are not entitled to. Again if you are having difficulty obtaining adequate maintenance for your children you should ask your solicitor to explain the options available to you.
What assets do I need to tell my spouse about?
You need to be completely frank about the extent of your wealth when you divorce. If you don’t disclose assets, any financial agreement could later be changed and there could be other serious consequences, including criminal liability for fraud.
Will I have to go to court?
Because judges have a wide discretion in deciding financial and other matters in divorce cases, the eventual outcome is often uncertain. This uncertainty couples with the risk of incurring high court costs means most couples try to negotiate a settlement to avoid having to go to court. This settlement can then be formalised in a consent order approved by a judge.
Do I need a lawyer if I go to court?
No you don’t, and these days many people choose to represent themselves. However as we pointed out above your divorce settlement will have a big impact on your future finances and child arrangements. Sometimes it is worth investing in expert legal representation to safeguard your position – and there may be ways to pay for your divorce that you have not previously considered.
How will you handle my divorce?
The relationship you have with your divorce lawyer must be built on confidence and trust. You will probably take away some initial impressions of the lawyer and the firm from your first meeting. But don’t be afraid to ask how the lawyer works. For example, how will he or she communicate with you? How often? Will copies of paperwork be sent promptly? It’s also important to establish which lawyers at the firm will be handling your case. Will parts of the case be delegated to junior staff for example (this is common to reduce the client’s bill)? Who will attend court in your behalf?
It is always worthwhile asking to see some testimonials from previous clients to help you build up a picture of the firm.
Hopefully we’ve dealt with some of the main issues that might arise at your first meeting with a divorce solicitor. For further advice and to arrange a meeting with Brookman call us on 44 (0) 20 7430 8470 or contact us online.