10 February 2014
The right blend for a smooth separation
For all the romantics out there, Marriage Week UK ran from 7 – 14 February, culminating in St Valentine’s Day when red roses and chocolates were the favoured gifts of choice.
It’s interesting to note that after years of decline between 1972 and 2009, marriage appears to be back in vogue. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show a year-on-year increase in the number of couples getting married since 2009, with the provisional number of marriages in 2011 in England and Wales standing at 247,890, up 1.7% on 2010.
However, statistics also reveal that 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. In 2011, the number of divorces was highest among couples aged 40 to 44.
The first few months of a new year are often when couples decide to make the break and create a fresh start. For some, the trigger is a major life event, such as the children leaving home or retirement, whereas for others it is the need to end years of unhappiness.
Whatever the reason, the issues can be made so much smoother by seeking expert legal advice and guidance, which is why members of the seven-strong family law team have the following advice when choosing your divorce lawyer and when and how to tell children about future divorce plans.
Choosing your divorce lawyer
"Of course a good lawyer needs to have the necessary experience and knowledge, but divorce is a very emotional time, so choose someone who is empathetic and who you feel you can relate to," she said.
"We always work in partnership with our clients – the difference between a good divorce and a bad one will impact on someone’s life both financially and emotionally for years to come, so it’s really important to get it right."
Sue says the most important thing is to be honest with your solicitor, adding: "Too many people will try to play games with their finances and go to great lengths to hide money in different accounts. This can result in lengthy and acrimonious cases where no-one really wins and the legal fees mount up all the time."
Ensuring that the advice and support you receive is cost effective is also key. Sue explains that individuals from the family team have often been in court with their client and counsel to find the "other side" has two or even three solicitors present. This is frequently so when large London firms are involved.
"This is rarely necessary, but will significantly increase costs," warns Sue. "A benefit of not instructing a large London team is that the lawyer of your choice will have day to day responsibility and conduct of matters for you.
"Paying more for a larger team does not automatically equate to better advice or service," she said. "We have an excellent reputation with both clients and peers and achieve results which regularly exceed expectations."
Sue also advises that keeping track of legal costs is important, as the example in the highly reported case of Mr and Mrs Young shows.
Costs in the proceedings were in excess of £6 million, involved over 65 court hearings and took six and a half years to come to final hearing.
That was, concludes Sue, an example of how not to resolve matters and she urges clients to maintain lines of communication with former partners at all times.
Telling the children
“What is best for the children must come first. Don't let your own emotions and preferences overshadow this," is the advice from senior associate Fran Hipperson.
"The top priority is to ensure children know they are still loved and wanted by both parents so no matter what their feelings are towards each other, parents must protect the children from any conflict and ensure they don’t think it is their fault."
While the age of the children will impact on how much they understand and need to know, she has the following advice:
- what is best for the children must come first - don’t let your own emotions and preferences overshadow this
- children need clarity and security, so agree contact arrangements as quickly as possible and make sure they understand they will still see both parents
- allow plenty of time to tell them when one parent is moving out, so they can adjust
- don’t let your child feel responsible for the parent left on their own, it’s not their role to look after you
- don’t compete for the children’s attention
- set joint ground rules for things like bedtimes, meals and TV viewing
- where new relationships are involved, realise children won’t always want to share their parent
- try to maintain contact with both sets of grandparents
- if necessary, seek counselling which can help parents separate in a calmer and more reasoned way and consider parenting programmes to help resolve conflicts