Choosing a good divorce lawyer can be a challenge if you don’t understand the nature of the legal proceedings involved and the possible consequences if you lawyer does not do a good job of representing you. Here are a few tips which should help you along the way.
- Choose a specialist. A solicitor who mixes divorce in with other types of work may not have the same level of expertise as one who only deals with family law. Check out a prospective solicitor’s website to get an idea of how they operate and their level of professionalism.
- Find someone who is good in and out of Court. Many divorce settlements can be negotiated without the need to resort to Court proceedings, but some will inevitably end up in front of a Judge. Your solicitor needs to be both a good conciliator and a strong voice in Court when the need arises. Hiring someone who has only one of these skill sets could cost you dearly if their approach is at odds with your needs.
- Experience. An experienced divorce solicitor will provide invaluable advice and guidance on how your divorce should be handled. During a divorce, people are often in a highly elevated emotional state which can lead them to making decisions which they may regret in the long term. This can manifest itself in a number of ways. For example, the adulterer husband who is willing to walk away from his marriage with nothing to try to ease his feelings of guilt, or the rejected wife who wants to “go for the balls” regardless of the impact on the rest of the family. A good divorce solicitor will help you to come up with an intelligent and appropriate strategy.
- Meet them. Arrange an initial consultation to get a feel for their level of professionalism and to see if they are someone you feel comfortable working with. You should come away from this meeting with a clear idea of how you stand legally, of what the solicitor can do for you and also a general estimate of the costs involved in handling your divorce.
What questions should I ask my divorce lawyer?
- Do I have the right to a divorce?
For the court to grant a divorce, your relationship must have broken down irretrievably. To establish this, you must show one of the following five facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years’ separation where your spouse consents to a divorce
- Five years’ separation if your spouse does not want a divorce
At present, you cannot obtain a ‘no-fault’ divorce simply because you and your spouse have agreed that you no longer want to be married.
- How long will my divorce take?
Each case differs, depending on the complexity of the issues involved, but as a rough estimate a divorce will take around six months to be finalised.
It is advisable to agree on all financial matters before completing the divorce proceedings – if your spouse tries to delay matters or it is a complicated situation or their representative is slow to respond the time taken could increase substantially.
- Who will our children live with?
Ideally, this will be decided between you and your ex-, with the help of mediation if needed. If this has to be dealt with by the court, the judge will put the best interests of the children first. Shared or joint residence means that the children will have two homes, spending part of the week with each parent. The time spent with each does not have to be equal.
- How much will maintenance cost?
If you and your spouse have children, you will both be expected to pay towards their support. Ideally, the courts like couples to reach a fair agreement between themselves in respect of child support and if you are able to agree a figure, this will be included in the court’s consent order. If agreement cannot be reached, the Child Maintenance Service will deal with the matter.
Where one spouse earns more than the other, spousal maintenance may also be awarded if the spouse with the lower income cannot support themselves. The sum awarded may be paid as a single lump sum or could be a regular monthly payment for a fixed term or until remarriage. It may also end upon cohabitation with a new partner.
- Who will pay the costs of my divorce?
As a general rule, each party pays their own legal fees in respect of their divorce, with the person making the legal application to the court paying the court fees. In some instances, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, the court may grant an order requiring the party at fault to pay the other side’s legal costs. This is something to discuss with your legal advisor at your initial meeting.
- Will I have to go to court?
If your spouse agrees to the divorce and you are also able to come to an agreement in respect of children and financial matters then there is no need for either of you to attend court.
- Is it possible for me to have a divorce if my spouse objects?
It is still possible to obtain a divorce if your spouse objects, although the process may take longer if you are not able to negotiate or agree upon anything. You will need to prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour on their behalf or show that you have been separated for at least five years.