Separating can be a very daunting prospect. One of the considerations will be “do I instruct a lawyer to act for me”?
The costs of involving lawyers can be very off-putting and it can be easy to think that it will be easier to sit around the kitchen table with your spouse and agree a settlement between you.
In some cases this can work well.
However, there are disadvantages with a “do it yourself” arrangement.
- Many couples have an imbalance of power in their relationship. During a relationship one party is usually more knowledgeable about finances than the other. Any agreement reached without full knowledge is a stab in the dark and could be unfair.
- Often essentials are forgotten such as child maintenance, tax implications and pensions.
- You need to provide protection against the other person coming back for more at a later stage.
- The law is vast with a lot of nuances. Your lawyer will know those nuances and have had a huge amount of experience and be able to guide you through the legal minefield.
- Do not underestimate the emotional turmoil you may feel as a result of the relationship breakdown. You may not be thinking clearly and may be vulnerable to undue pressure or influence from either your spouse or friends of family members who may well have their own agenda. Your lawyer will be looking out for you and your interests.
Once you have made the decision to instruct a lawyer who should you choose?
Choosing a lawyer can be overwhelming. The lawyer is the person you will be relying on to give you the advice upon which to make the best decision for you and your family.
- You need to ensure your lawyer is truly experienced in family law.
- You need someone who will talk to you in plain English.
- You need someone you will feel comfortable with as you may have to reveal highly confidential and personal information.
- If you have young children you will need to look for a lawyer who will put your children’s needs first.
- You need someone who will be affordable. Make sure that your lawyer is up front about costs and does not shy away from discussing their fees.
- Seek references and testimonials from perspective lawyers and see what other clients have said about them.
- Speak to friends, relatives and acquaintances, such as accountants, a financial advisor or your bank manager to find out who has a good, solid reputation in family law.
Most law firms offer a first free meeting. At that meeting consider:-
- Does your lawyer clock watch or is your lawyer prepared to spend the time with you to ensure all your questions and queries are answered?
- Discuss possible likely outcomes with your lawyer. Your lawyer should be able to give you an idea of the outcome of your case based on his or her experience.
- Ask why you should use them, what makes them different.
- Get a clear cost estimate.
- Ask questions. It is always good practice to write down some questions before you attend the meeting.
- Take a friend with you if you feel comfortable discussing things in front of them. Remember that you may be asked about your earnings, your age and your financial circumstances during that meeting.
- Take a pen and paper and write down anything you wish to remember.
- Will this lawyer act rather than re act?
- Will this lawyer take control rather than letting you spouses’ lawyer take control?
- Will this lawyer plan ahead?
- Will this lawyer care how you feel and support you at every stage?
- Will this lawyer champion your interest?
Most importantly, information is power. Your lawyer will be able to give you information as to how the law will apply to your precise set of circumstances. It is very easy to listen to the advice of friends or relatives about what is likely to happen but, unfortunately, that advice is often based on conjecture or their own experience, rather than any true expertise.
A lawyer will dispel the myths and give you information so that you can take control of your life.
Rachel Buckley is a Director and Head of Divorce and Finance at The Family Law Company by Hartnell Chanot. Rachel Buckley can be contacted directly on 01392 457 155 or 01392 421 777 Rachel.Buckley@thefamilylawco.com. You can also speak to our solicitors in Exeter and Plymouth.