A good divorce solicitor will help you to unravel the legal ties of your marriage, secure your financial future, and if there are children, help the parties settle into a workable post separation co-parenting relationship. If your soon-to-be-ex takes an aggressive or unreasonable approach, then your solicitor needs to be experienced enough to protect your interests and your assets.
On divorce, a husband and wife have potential financial claims against each other in respect of maintenance, capital, property and pensions. The English family courts have a wide and far-reaching discretion to divide and reallocate assets according to the particular circumstances of the case, regardless of the origin and legal ownership of those assets.
Those claims do not simply come to an end upon divorce and can only be finally settled by the making of a financial order within the divorce proceedings (known as a consent order). However agreement is eventually reached, it is fundamentally important that legal advice is sought to check the terms of the agreement and to convert that agreement into a properly drafted and legally enforceable court order. In the absence of legal advice, important rights could be signed away or claims that should have been terminated maybe left open indefinitely.
No-one likes the idea of spending money on solicitors but a lack of advice and guidance at crucial stages of a divorce can have serious consequences.
There are around 10,500 law firms in England and Wales - so how do you find the right solicitor for you?
1. Choose a specialist divorce solicitor. Divorce and family law is complex and is continuously evolving. A general practitioner 'dabbling' in divorce and family law could do more harm than good.
2. Personal recommendations from somebody who has been through a divorce can be very useful.
3. 'Resolution' is an association of family solicitors who are committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. Resolution members follow a code of practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems.
4. Law Society or Resolution accredited solicitors have achieved special recognition for their expertise in particular areas of law.
5. Search the 'Legal 500' guide to the legal profession. This organisation independently rates and lists the best law firms in the country for any given specialism.
6. Geographical location has become less important. The vast majority of the work in your case can be conducted by telephone, e-mail and letter. Choosing the right solicitor is better than choosing one who is geographically convenient.
7. Choose a solicitor with the appropriate experience to reflect the potential complexity of your case. If your case involves substantial assets and income then consider choosing a senior solicitor. The hourly rates will be higher but the legal costs will be proportionate to what is at stake and the senior solicitor will be better placed to achieve your objectives. If your resources are modest request a junior solicitor to handle your case to keep the costs down. Seek assurances that the junior solicitor will be supervised by more experienced colleagues - in this way you can benefit from their lower hourly rates but still have access to the more experienced solicitor where appropriate.
8. Collaborative law is a relatively new way of dealing with family disputes. Each person appoints their own lawyer but instead of conducting negotiations between you and your partner by letter or phone you meet together to work things out face to face. Each of you have your lawyer by your side throughout the entire process and therefore you will benefit from legal advice as you go. The aim of collaborative law is to resolve family disputes without going to court. If you think this might be a suitable way forward, find a lawyer who is collaboratively trained.
9. Arrange an appointment to see your solicitor. A good divorce solicitor will usually charge a fixed fee for an initial consultation. Prepare a list of key events/dates of the marriage, a summary of the assets of the marriage and income of both parties, and a list of key questions. You will get much more out of your first interview with your solicitor if you are prepared with these questions, and it will be an opportunity for you to gauge whether you will be happy to instruct that solicitor to act for you.
You are looking for someone who you can trust to look after your interests and give you sensible objective advice. Your solicitor's objective should be to get you through the divorce process legally, financially and emotionally intact.