Our guest blogger Gianna:
I am delighted to be asked to guest blog for The Debt Advice Service. I am a family solicitor and director at O’Donnell Solicitors based in Grasscroft, Oldham. My specialism is divorce and financial settlements relating to divorce, children and cohabitation.
I have been asked to produce a blog because legal representation is increasingly being quoted as a factor contributing to a person’s debt, particularly in divorce and financial remedy proceedings. I find this concerning and wonder how many of these people knew about the different and perhaps less expensive options available to them, or if they had been given any tips to help minimize their costs.
Meeting with a lawyer:
The first meeting with a lawyer is a fact-finding exercise for the lawyer to establish a person’s situation. It is a meeting worth paying for, in respect of the information and advice that you are given. The purpose of the fact-find is to give you advice as to the likely achievable settlement, the legal costs involved in obtaining that settlement, and the best option available to you for achieving the settlement. The advice is tailored to your circumstances, taking into account proportionality i.e. the costs involved versus the assets, income and pensions involved in your case. This may also depend upon the nature of the spouse you describe!
There are different routes to achieving a financial settlement, and solicitor representation is only one of them. Other options include:-
Mediation – this is when you attend meetings accompanied with your spouse along with an independent, impartial and qualified third party. The mediator guides the process and assist the parties in narrowing the issues in dispute and negotiating a settlement.
Collaborative divorce – You and your spouse each instruct a lawyer who has been trained in the collaborative approach. You meet regularly for ‘four-way’ meetings with your lawyers, and seek to reach an agreement through these negotiations. A court order can then be sought in the terms of any agreement reached between the parties
Acting in person – this is when you represent yourself. The court system has “geared itself up” for those choosing to represent themselves, in its guidance and making court documents more accessible.
Arbitration – this is when you and your spouse agree to submit to the binding decision of an independent third party. You agree not to be bound by the arbitrator’s decision. After the process has been concluded, you will then apply to the court for an order in the terms of the arbitral award.
There is then of course the more traditional option of solicitor led negations, in advance of court proceedings or parallel with court proceedings.
Keeping solicitor costs down:
If on being told of the different options, solicitor led negotiations is your preference for dealing with matters, there are a number of ways to keep your costs down:-
- Be clear as to what you want your solicitor to do at the outset.
- Do as much of the leg work yourself – Prepare your financial disclosure information and documentation as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, so you’re not asked to provide more at a later date by your solicitor or spouse.
- Seek emotional support from friends and family. If you are feeling emotional when you see your solicitor, take a friend or family member along to your meeting. They can take notes and remind you of the advice given in the meeting, or of anything you have been asked to do.
- Be mindful of the value of the assets you are arguing about – The cost of arguing over say, the contents of the matrimonial home, can quickly outweigh the actual value of the contents, particularly if it leads to protracted correspondence or litigation.
- Choose your battles – don’t play “tit for tat” over unimportant issues. It could be that your spouse is trying to provoke you. Try to manage your reaction before you decide how you wish to deal with the issue.
If you are worrying about costs, speak to your solicitor about your costs and ask them for an update. Don’t every worry or feel embarrassed by asking for such information. Solicitors should always give the best costs information available.
For legal advice on divorce, financial settlements, cohabitation disputes or child related issues, don’t’ hesitate to contact me on 01457 761 320 or email email@example.com. I always advise as to the most pragmatic and cost-effective approach.