03 January 2017
What to expect when you’re expecting… to divorce
The New Year can bring significant change for a lot of people. Some might decide that they want to change jobs, move house, travel more or perhaps embark on a new hobby. For others, their thoughts of the New Year may be of more life changing things; as research has regularly shown that after the Christmas holidays, a lot of people decide that their marriage is no longer working and think about divorce and separation.
Naturally, many people will feel apprehensive about the journey ahead and what their life will be like after their decree absolute comes through. Sue Andrews, partner with B P Collins who has over 35 years’ experience, advises on what can happen when you contact a specialist divorce lawyer - who should be able to provide reassurance to those thinking about taking such a step.
At your first meeting the solicitor will obtain factual information – such as length of your relationship, details about your children, incomes and other resources. But they should also take time to find out about your anxieties and goals as well as what has brought you to your decision. This is to establish whether the marriage has broken down irretrievably and so is divorce what you really want.
Your solicitor can only assess the situation realistically, if you are completely honest from the outset. If you hold something back it could delay resolution and hike up legal fees.
Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer may suggest counselling for you or together with your spouse. The latter can help a couple identify whether the difficulties in the marriage are irreparable or not. Communication is key, so even if the decision is to end the marriage, talking that decision through beforehand, rather than one spouse imposing it upon the other, is likely to mean that the "formal bits" can be dealt with amicably.
Your solicitor may also advise you to seek counselling before embarking on the formal process to ensure that you are emotionally able to deal with matters and able to make important decisions about your future. It is important to keep emotions in check and have a clear head when dealing with matters such as your children or your finances, since the decisions made now will affect you and your family for a very long time, if not your whole life.
Following the initial fact finding exercise to ascertain the resources and assets of the relationship and your lawyer should also want to learn of all of the issues that might impact upon the resolution of matters. On the basis of that information, your lawyer should be able to advise you about the way forward and likely outcome applying relevant legislation and judicial precedents and guidance to your circumstances. Good judgement, empathy, robustness and the ability to think strategically and ‘fight your corner ‘are key attributes of a good divorce lawyer.
The costs to obtain the decree absolute are likely to be in the region of £1,000 to £2,000 plus VAT, whilst fees to the court are currently £550. What is not so easy to estimate, are the costs of resolving financial matters or issues where there is a dispute about children.
If the resolution involves going to court and a number of hearings - possibly involving experts - then your costs will be high and will reflect the complexity of the issues and the work that needs to be done. Your solicitor will discuss such costs with you. However, court proceedings should be a last resort, and a negotiated settlement - which puts you and your spouse in control - is a far better way of ending the formalities of a marriage. The ability to communicate and maintain respect for each other, as well as receiving practical and realistic advice from the outset, will help to achieve that.
Telling children about your decision to separate is never going to be easy but try to tell them together and provide reassurances that although they may not see both of you each day; they will continue to have a relationship with each of you. Talk to them about what the changes in their life might look like. Remember that you are the parents, so it is best to remain united when considering what is best for them.
It is often thought that mothers have an automatic right for the children to live with them, however that is not correct. Both parents have equal status, however this should not be about either of you but about the children and their right to have a relationship with you both. Circumstances such as where the parents work and live or the flexibility of each parent will of course come into play but your aim should be to achieve a fair agreement and one that works for your children.
Children shouldn’t be forced to choose between parents, however if they have strong feelings, and are able to make rational and informed decisions then those feelings will be taken into account. The older the child is, the greater emphasis their views will be given, and if they are 15 years or over it is extremely unlikely that if there was a dispute a court would make a decision against their wishes unless, of course, very clearly not in their best interests.
Sue concludes: “Even though your Christmas holidays may have been stressful, the divorce process doesn’t have to be. If both partners receive realistic and pragmatic advice from their lawyers and can talk honestly with each other, a satisfactory settlement could be achieved, giving people the chance to move on with their lives.”