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Legal

Choosing a solicitor

'Failure is delay but not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead-end street.'
William Arthur Ward.

Please scroll down the page for 'Questionnaire for first solicitor meeting'

Why do I need a solicitor?

If you are thinking about separating or divorce, you will most probably need a solicitor. Even if you are trying to agree to an informal separation agreement between yourselves, each of you will still need a solicitor to check over the details to make so that you are each protected in the future and that the agreement is legally sound. You wouldn't want to have to do it all again if it were challenged in court at a later date, would you?
 
What use is a separation agreement?
It sets out the things agreed between you so that you are both able to recognise your duties and responsibilities. If you decide to divorce at a later date, this agreement would, under normal circumstances, form the basis of the settlement in the divorce. This is why good legal advice is so important.

Unless you are well organised and your case is very straightforward, you will need at least a preliminary consultation with a family law solicitor. This should be considered as an investment and a way to avoid problems in the future. Even if things seem quite amicable now, it is still a good time to touch base with a solicitor. Each day, the Divorce Aid Team deals with problems which could have easily been avoided if only a family solicitor had been consulted.

A family solicitor is the only person who is qualified to advise you about your legal situation together with advice about your finances and children. Your situation will be unique although there are many issues which may be common to other situations. One thing is for sure, many people may offer you advice whether based on personal experience or that of friends, but the only advice you should really focus on is that of your own solicitor who knows the facts of your individual case.
You can therefore safely decide whether you want to instruct the solicitor to act on your behalf and it is you who will be doing the instructing; your solicitor will advise you and it is then up to you to consider this advice and then act accordingly. You are in control.

What about 'internet divorces'?
The internet can be a good source of information but you should be aware of sites that charge for document packages. All divorce documents are available FREE of charge from your local court or can be downloaded from the Court Service website. Have a look Courts and Documents section. Again this is a totally free service. The documents come with clear and precise instructions about filling them in but once again we would always recommend consulting a solicitor. Documents are only completed online, not the divorce itself. The documents still have to go through the court procedure.

The wording and timing of court documents can be crucial.
Court orders for lump sums or transfer of property cannot normally be altered once they are made. This applies to orders made by agreement as well as those decided by the Court. So it is very important to consider your future needs and seek professional advice before you commit yourself to any agreement. If the timing is not right, you could lose all rights to certain financial orders. It is very sad to give people this news after they have committed themselves to agreements.

How do I find a family law solicitor?
There are many types of solicitors and the one you may have used for purchasing a house, for example, may not be the most qualified to use on this occasion. We call this area of law family or matrimonial law. There are specially trained solicitors who only deal or mostly deal with family law. These solicitors are used to most problems encountered and they can apply the latest legal remedies. Search our Directory of Recommended Divorce Solicitors.

If you are unable to find a solicitor here, please use the email link from the Directory page and the Team will personally help you.

Family legal problems can have complex and unforeseen consequences
We recommend that you use someone who will provide reliable advice and help you resolve your situation in a constructive and sensitive way. Someone who will understand that when decisions need to be made, they need to made by you. You would be helped to understand the consequences of these decisions.

Costs also should be considered
We would not refer you to a top city solicitor at the top of the fees range if your assets were modest. There are many different experts within family law and we can send you details according to your situation.

What else should I consider when choosing a solicitor?
Some solicitors also practise as mediators. If you are eligible for legal help, you may be eligible for help with mediation costs. You can find details in the above databanks.

What will a divorce cost me?
Costs can vary greatly and depend upon the complexity of your case and how much you can both agree. (Remember that you may be entitled to help with legal costs if you have little or no income. Evidence would be needed and the merits of your case would also be examined. See our legal aid article.)
At your first meeting, details of costs will be given and a letter drafting these out should be sent to you for your agreement. All solicitors have an hourly rate and this is usually split into ten units of six minutes. There may be different charges for other members of staff working on your case, either more junior or senior. Hourly rates depend upon expertise and location.

Are there any other costs?
Then there may be other costs such as court fees, expert fees such as barristers or a surveyor valuing your home. If you wish to petition for divorce and it proceeds undefended without any complications, it could be estimated to cost about £500 to £700 plus VAT but all firms charge different fees plus court fees. To read about court fees, please see family court fees on the HM Courts website towards the bottom of the page. These fees are variable and you should ask your local court. You will also find details about exemption from some fees. Here is a guide for county courts:

Hindsight
With hindsight, you would realise how important this stage of your life is, especially if it has been a long marriage or there are children to be considered. You should consider professional legal advice to protect yourself now and in the future.

How can I keep costs down?
Costs can be reduced by keeping yourself informed and organised. Paperwork can build up and you should try to keep an orderly file and keep a copy of all documents and correspondence. Best to keep this locked away particularly if you have curious children. If you are able to work in partnership with your solicitor,this could be beneficial to you both. If pension or mortgage details are needed for example, it could be cost-effective if you could provide these for him, perhaps summarised and typed or clearly written. Have a look at the article below about the first meeting.

All solicitors have an hourly rate and this is usually split into ten units of six minutes.
If you use these units for professional advice, then the bill will be well-managed. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that their solicitor is suddenly their best friend. There are many people who can help you emotionally. If you haven't already done so, check out our Emotions section and share your problems with the Divorce Aid Team.

What if you don't feel comfortable with your solicitor?
Personalites of course play a part in choosing a solicitor. Please speak up if you are not happy and the solicitor can refer you to a colleague or another firm. If you would prefer a male or female solicitor, you should state this at the earliest opportunity. The Team here would also be on hand to assist.
Solicitors who are able to provide legal aid can be few and far between. Please consider your options with care.

Having established a relationship with your solicitor
It can be quite comforting to know that you can call on him or his team should the need arise. The divorce process can start off as quite amicable and simple but often disputes arise especially concerning finances and children.

Your solicitor is only human and is working in a very stressful job. Sometimes, he will be working on other cases, in meetings or in court. Unless your phone call is urgent, you should be patient or you could ask his secretary for a phone appointment or agree to correspond via e-mail or regular meetings. He will be professional and courteous but try not to keep him chatting on the phone. Think of those units adding up. He will have your best interests at heart too.

Above all, try to establish a trusting relationship with him but remember that you are the one instructing him. If the first solicitor does not suit you, you may, of course, look for another one as we said above. After receiving his advice, you must be prepared to make your own decisions. This is a fact that many people fail to realise. You must get advice, consider it and then reach your own decisions.

'When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.' Ursula K. le Guin

What can I expect at the first consultation?
If this is a brief initial consultation, try to prepare a brief summary of your situation. The best thing to do is make a short list of questions you want to ask. This is a stressful time for you and you may be rather forgetful or disorganised. Try to make notes when he answers these.

If you then decide to ask the solicitor to act on your behalf, you could ask him to summarise the meeting in letter form for you. He would also summarise his costs and working arrangements in the practice. You could then proceed to discuss the full details of your situation.
If you could also prepare some details about you and your family, so much the better.
Have a look at the following list or your solicitor may send you a questionnaire of his own:

Questionnaire for first solicitor meeting

  1. Your name, address, phone, contact details and date of birth and for your spouse.
  2. The names, dates of birth of your children and details of their schools. (Include details of any children in your home who are not children from this marriage.)
  3. Your marriage certificate. If this has been lost, check out our Who can help section for details on how to obtain a copy.
  4. Details about any employment you both have.
  5. An estimate of the value of your property/properties and mortgages/loans secured together with details of the lender/s.
  6. Details of any other assets including pensions.
  7. List your debts if you have any and include credit and store card details.
  8. Try to give a snapshot of you current outgoings. You don't have to provide many details at this stage but it will give your solicitor an idea of your current situation and lifestyle.
  9. If you have already separated, provide a brief note including the date and circumstances.
    Also include copies of any correspondence received.
  10. If either of you have been married before, try to provide details about the divorce and any court orders made.
  11. Any other details you may think appropriate such as any special medical conditions in the family, how long you have lived in the area and whether you have family and friends close by. Do you have a new relationship? Again, just brief details.

You must be honest with your solicitor or the advice given could be incorrect and your relationship with him could be affected.

How long will this take?
If the divorce is not complicated and both parties co-operate, the legal divorce could take from five to eight months. This is the best time scale for your legal divorce - let us call it the business side. Your emotional divorce, your real divorce, will take as much time as you let.

If disagreements occur, this could take much longer. There is no set time. Most divorce settlements are concluded without the need of court intervention or during the court process itself before the final hearing (except for making a court order to formalise an agreement already made - sometimes referred to as 'rubber stamping' or an order by consent) but if your solicitor advises that this is the best route for you, then this is what should be seriously considered.

The legal process
Read on in our next section about the Legal process.
Try to be gentle and focus on the big picture.
This period of your life will finish. It will end and things will get better. Reach out for help when you need it.
Check out our Further help sections throughout the site and our Book sections.

"Love is short, forgetting is long, and understanding longer still." Merle Shain


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