Ten top tips for a cheaper divorce
1. If you have tried face-to-face negotiations and it hasn’t worked, try mediation. Even if you can’t bear the idea of being in the same room as your ex-spouse, you can try ‘shuttle mediation’ where the spouses sit in separate rooms and the mediator moves between them.
2. If mediation doesn’t work, find a solicitor who will act for a fixed fee. Make sure the ‘lawyer’ who is dealing with your case is a solicitor. Being charged by the hour is not a good idea unless you have a lot of assets to argue over and you can afford it.
3. Avoid voluntary disclosure (the process of filling in the Form E – the financial statement which sets out your assets – outside the court process). If you don’t reach an agreement you will have to do the whole lot again inside the court process. Voluntary disclosure has no teeth. If your ex doesn’t want you to see their bank statements you have no chance of forcing with them via this process.
4. If you decide to try using voluntary disclosure, make sure your ex doesn’t give you the run around and you actually get full financial disclosure. Set a deadline for filling in their Form E. If they don’t keep to it, issue proceedings immediately so that they are forced to complete it. It will avoid delay and save you money in the long run.
5. Obtain a written agreement over the amount of time you and your ex will spend with the children before you sort out the finances. Once the financial negotiations are underway you may find the relations with your ex deteriorate and the children issues become much harder to resolve.
6. When you complete your Form E, do it thoroughly. If you leave out pages of bank statements your ex and their lawyers will assume you have something to hide and the whole process will become hugely expensive as they leave no stone unturned chasing the missing documents. Make sure you provide no room for suspicion. At the end of the day your ex’s lawyer’s fees come out of your joint matrimonial ‘pot’ so it is in both party’s interests to keep costs down.
7. If you can’t afford a lawyer, make sure you understand the law and the Family Procedure Rules 2010.
8. If you can only afford to see a solicitor once, make sure it is before you make your settlement proposal or respond to your ex’s. This is the most vital part of the whole process. You need to be sure you know what you are entering into. Avoid accidentally ‘accepting’ your ex’s offer, which can happen.
9. If you have to go to trial, consider appointing a barrister to act for you under the direct access scheme. Ask for a junior barrister as they are likely to cost less so that is one way to save money. Even if you have been acting as a litigant in person up to the trial, having a barrister at the trial will be a huge advantage.
10. If you reach an agreement make sure you have it written up as consent orders and approved by court. If you don’t, your ex could come back for more in a couple of years’ time, claiming that if it was not the final agreement. Getting consent orders will save you potentially huge legal fees in a couple of years’ time.
Richard Crallan is a family divorce lawyer and author of Secrets of a Divorce Lawyer, April 2014, £12.99