How to prepare for your first meeting with a divorce solicitor

15th July 2020 Family Law

I speak to many people for whom the breakdown of their relationship is the only time they access legal advice. They often tell me that they have never done this before and don’t quite know what to do; simply approaching a divorce solicitor can be daunting. 

Even if you have previous experience of working with solicitors, your family law solicitor will not expect you to have a full understanding of the laws and procedures of matrimonial finances or children law but they will guide you through those relevant to you and your family with empathy and support.

The breakdown of any relationship is a stressful and emotional time but accessing legal advice is essential in getting to know your rights and obligations as well as accessing further support during a difficult time. 

Where to begin…

At the beginning. This may seem obvious but initial instruction can sometimes be provided in a disorderly fashion. This is understandable where sadness, hurt or anger are the strongest emotions you are feeling but please bear with us, as we need to take it back to basics to be able to advise properly.

It is helpful for you to provide a timeline of significant dates and events from the start of the relationship to what has led you to seeking advice. You may not remember everything at this point but it is a good place to start. 

Don’t be shy…

It isn’t always easy to talk about what has happened during a relationship, particularly when there are things you may not even have told those closest to you. We need to know as much as you are able to share and if you aren’t comfortable speaking about it, you may find it easier and sometimes quite cathartic to write everything down and to send it in an email. We can assure you that as lawyers, there isn’t much we haven’t heard and if we need to help you access additional help and support, we will do. 

Be honest…

It may well be a cliché but honesty really is always the best policy and everything comes out in the wash. Your legal team cannot properly advise and support you, if they don’t have all of the information. If you deliberately withhold relevant information, it may affect the advice we give you, how we run your case but can also place us on the back foot in a litigated matter. If your matter proceeds to Court, this can be much more serious. 

Make a list...

We are here to listen to your worries, to answer your questions and to help you reach a resolution at the earliest opportunity. We don’t want you spending more in legal costs than you need to. Contrary to what you may have heard about family lawyers, we do not want you to be in the process for any longer than you need to be – if at all. We know you will have a lot of questions and prefer for you to ask them so that we know you understand your case as it develops. You may think of those questions at peculiar times, so make a list, write them all down and don’t be afraid to ask.

Be patient. Have faith in the process…

Sometimes clients can become disheartened and frustrated but unfortunately, divorce isn’t a quick process. The average divorce can take up to 6 months. The ‘quickie’ divorce portrayed in the media doesn’t exist. That 22 second hearing takes place after roughly 4 months of procedure and doesn’t dissolve a marriage. An application to the Court about your children could take 6-8 months depending on how complicated it is. The Courts are stretched and whilst we will discuss alternative options with our clients, if we are within the Court process, we do need to be patient. Your solicitor will talk you through each stage of the process and provide costs and time estimates at each step. 

Listen to your expert...

With the world of information at our fingertips, it is inevitable that clients search the web to find out what they can about family law processes. There are some very helpful resources and support groups online but speak to us about reputable sources and be wary of advice given in chat discussions. Your family expert will tailor your advice specifically to your personal circumstances, your needs and your resources. No two cases are the same so even the good natured advice of friends and family with similar experience may not be the same as the advice given to you. By all means ask us so we can help you understand why it might be different but do be prepared to hear an opposing opinion. If we think your position is wrong or untenable, we will tell you, however, what you do with that advice is your decision and we act upon your instructions (within reason).

Court…

The last place anyone wants or expects to be is Court. Whilst we will endeavour to work with you and your ex-partner to resolve the matter through other processes, there are still matters that do end up in the Court process. Although this can be daunting, the Family Court isn’t like the Courts portrayed in a TV drama. There are no wigs and gowns, there is no jury, and there is no open gallery. Family Court proceedings are, for the most part, heard in private. A Judge will not make a decision unless they really have to; parties are encouraged to work together with their legal representatives and some guidance from the Court to try and reach a resolution at an early stage.

Step-by-Step…

At the beginning of your matter, we will give you a brief overview of the process and procedure. We can't go into the full ins and outs of what could happen at each stage as it varies from case to case. You may also become overwhelmed with information that later transpires to be irrelevant. There are many paths a matter can take and the best approach is to advise you at the different stages of your different options.

Glossary…

As much as we will discuss your matter in plain English, there is inevitably some jargon in the legal process. Here are a few terms you will come across in children and divorce matters:

Arbitration - An alternative to the Court process, a private resolution process which is legally binding upon the parties.
CAFCASS - The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
Conditional order - The first declaration that you are entitled to dissolve your civil partnership.
Consent Order - An agreement the parties have reached and entered into voluntarily, approved by the Court and made into a Court Order. 
Counsel - A barrister. A barrister is instructed by your solicitor to work together to form your legal team.
Child Arrangements Order - An order to say with whom a child lives & with whom they spend time. Residence/contact or custody/access are more widely known terms but are not the terms used by the Court.
Decree Nisi - The first declaration within divorce proceedings to state you are entitled to a divorce – it does not dissolve your marriage.
Decree Absolute - The declaration that your marriage has been dissolved.
DRA - Dispute Resolution Appointment – a judge led mediation type appointment to encourage parties to reach an agreement in Children Act matters.
FDA - First Directions Appointment – the first hearing in financial remedy matters.
FDR - Financial Dispute Resolution – a Judge led mediation type appointment to encourage parties to reach an agreement in financial remedy proceedings.
Final Order - The order from the Court declaring your civil partnership has been dissolved.
Financial Remedy - The name of the process for achieving financial settlement following a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership.
Mediation - A process to encourage parties to reach an agreement together by sitting around a table with an experienced family mediator. Mediation is not legally binding.
Undertaking - A strict legal promise. 

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Sally Stanway is a Senior Associate located in Liverpoolin our Family department

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