Do I need a solicitor?
A solicitor is not essential for any divorce or family or children proceedings.
For some people a solicitor is out of the question, they simply don’t have the means to even think about fees of over £200 per hour + VAT when they may only be earning £10 or £20 per hour themselves. These are the people who would, before 2013, have received legal aid.
Now only some of those who can prove they have suffered domestic abuse are entitled to legal aid. This means there has been a huge increase in litigants in person i.e. people conducting their own cases in court without using a solicitor or barrister.
If you can afford it, it’s nice and easy to have a solicitor to do everything for you, but there’s nothing you can’t do yourself. You may need some help, though not necessarily from a solicitor. You may need a barrister, but you no longer need a solicitor to instruct one for you.
There’s a lot of information on-line though it’s hard to know where to start, and even I find Wikivorce overwhelming. It’s also important to be sure that what you’re looking at applies to the law in England and Wales, as the law everywhere else is different and does not apply here. However, I would recommend that you read as much as possible: information is power in separation and divorce and the more knowledge you have the more in control you’ll feel.
My book ‘A Better Way of Dealing with Divorce: A guide for parents who want to keep out of court, and save their money and sanity‘ is a simple guide to how it all works and a very good place to start. It is particularly helpful for couples who are able to have an amicable divorce. However if you find yourself in court proceedings I would highly recommend ‘The Family Court without a Lawyer’ by Lucy Reed.
Most people do need a solicitor – but usually later rather than sooner because:
Divorce is a huge emotional upheaval and process of change which has many financial consequences and a few legal ones
Involving solicitors too soon risks you incurring large unnecessary costs and causing antagonism which is damaging to your future parental relationship and to your children.
“Too soon” can be when
- The split has occurred suddenly. Neither of you are in an emotional state to be able to take in legal advice, or to make any practical, financial or legal decisions. The bereaved are advised to wait a year before making any big decisions and divorce can be even more traumatic. So let the dust settle and take your time, nothing happens quickly in divorce (even “quickie” ones).
- One partner has been thinking about separating for a long time, but it comes as a shock to the other party. When one is “playing emotional catch-up” solicitors fees escalate because they are not capable of making rational decisions and you can end up in court before you know it – which may not be what either of you wanted.
- Form Es have not been completed. Clients rarely need a solicitor before they have completed their form E as solicitors will not give any concrete advice until they see the full financial information of both parties. However, they can write a lot of letters (at about £50 per letter) whilst getting to that point.
If you’re attending mediation to help you work out your financial settlement you may benefit from some legal advice. The mediator will help you to get all your financial disclosure together and once you have all of that for both of you, it can be helpful to take it to a solicitor to know the parameters of what you may be entitled to before you begin the main negotiations. The mediator, even if a solicitor, will not be able to give you any legal advice so you will need your own solicitor for that.
Drafting a consent order
When you have reached an agreement between you (whether in mediation or between yourselves), as to how to divide up your assets and as to whether or not there should be a clean break, you should always have this made into a court order. Until the court has agreed that your settlement is right for both of you, and your children, it is not final or binding. That means that either of you could go to court at any time in the future, and even after the death of one of you, to ask for something more from the other person.
You may think that your ex would never go back on your agreement or take you to court, but people can be highly influenced by new partners to do things you never thought they were capable of. And if there’s any question that your ex might not do what they agreed, you can only enforce it if it’s been made into a court order.
You will need a solicitor to put your agreement into the correct form to be sent to the court. If it’s very straightforward and you’re sure you don’t need any advice on it, an on-line service may be cheaper.
It’s always best if you can afford it to get some advice on your financial settlement.
Many cases are decided on basic needs – often what is required to rehouse the children and their main carer, when there’s not a lot to go round. If that’s the situation you’re in, it may just be a juggling act to see how you can get what you’ve got to stretch from one home into two. And no amount of legal advice is going to make it stretch further.
Equally there are lots of cases where people will benefit from some legal advice, especially when they think that what they are likely to get is not ‘fair’. (Sadly, life is not fair, and divorce is no exception.) And if there’s more than is required to cover basic needs you may need some advice as to how it’s best divided up.
Complicated financial circumstances
If your divorce has an international element, complicated business arrangements or other factors which take your case out of the ordinary, you may need a solicitor to advise and help you through it all.
Letters and form filling
You don’t need a solicitor for the routine paperwork, although if you can afford one it’s nicer and less time-consuming than doing it all yourself.
Going to court
If money is tight, you’re better off doing the paperwork yourself and finding a direct access barrister to represent you in court, rather than paying a solicitor to instruct a barrister for you.
If funds are limited, and even if they’re not, you may be better off +without a solicitor, as you will know your children and your case far better than a solicitor or barrister ever will. So you rarely need a solicitor, although again they can be nice to have if you can afford one, and provided they conduct your case in a way you’re happy with. You may want to be represented at some or all court hearings and you can now instruct a direct access barrister yourself without having to go through a solicitor.
Do you have a divorce solicitor but wonder if you’ve chosen the right one? Or would you like a second opinion?
If you’re reading this, you probably haven’t got the best solicitor for you. Clients often say “I’ve never done this before so how am I to know?” but in my experience they usually do know when they’re not getting good advice, though unfortunately often far too late.
I offer a free 20 minute call and can usually tell you in that time whether it’s best for you to stay where you are, or to change divorce solicitor.
This is normal.
The law is complicated and even if you’re tempted to take it up as a career, now is not a good time, you’re far too emotional!
Two heads are better than one so if you can, take someone (with pen and paper) with you to any solicitor’s appointment.
Don’t be afraid to keep asking your solicitor to explain again. They won’t think you’re stupid, and it’s important that you understand what’s happening. Your solicitor is there to advise you and you need to be able to make an informed choice as to whether you take that advice, or need to question it.
If you can’t afford to keep asking your solicitor to explain, I can demystify it all for you at a fraction of the cost – and your first 20 minutes with me are free.
You may need a new solicitor and I can advise you as to whether and when you will, or whether a directly instructed barrister might be better.
A lot of what you need is legal information and procedure and it may be that I can work with you, or give you occasional guidance for a while to reduce your costs prior to helping you find a new solicitor or barrister if you need one.
When you receive an unexpected letter from a solicitor, or a divorce petition it can be frightening and upsetting. It’s definitely important, but not necessarily urgent so it’s best to take your time and find the right person, rather than just the first person, who can help you.
Occasions when someone may need urgent legal advice include when they
- Fear the other parent is about to abduct their child(ren)
- Are suffering domestic abuse
- Need an injunction to prevent disposal of assets
- Have a choice as to the country their divorce can be started in
“I chose you because of your experience as a solicitor, as well as a life coach. I felt that meant you were therefore very experienced, well educated and intelligent. There are far too many counsellors and life coaches around whom I feel have dubious qualifications. You were incredibly helpful, straight thinking, kind and understanding. Thank you.”
Mrs WA, London
You might also be interested in reading the ‘Legal Structure of Divorce’ a two-minute guide to divorce proceedings.