Separation and the importance of legal advice
Every relationship breakdown is unique. Whether separation is sudden or something that’s happened over time, the future can be a very uncertain and unwelcome place. So what do you need to know? And how will you navigate separation? The answer to these two questions will set the tone for how separating parents in particular make the transition from partners to co-parents...
1. What do you need to know?
Firstly, the law also has a lot to say about the interests of children and finances whether you’re married or not. So whatever you’re thinking just now, it makes sense to be informed. And while friends, colleagues and internet forums will always offer solace, none are regulated experts. This is the preserve of a family lawyer.
2. Don’t be scared of lawyers
Barely half of separating partners seek out legal advice about their situation. This is a worrying statistic given what’s at stake. People are understandably put off by exorbitant hourly rates and second-hand stories of huge legal bills. At the same time, remaining uninformed can prove costly in the longer-term. Once a financial agreement is struck, it can be extremely risky and expensive to try and unpick following a divorce.
3. Engaging a lawyer for the first time
Firstly, make sure you seek out a lawyer that specialises in family law. Fortunately, they have their own membership body called Resolution where you can find a local member by tapping in your postcode. Then ring around until you secure a 30-minute free of charge consultation. Family lawyers up and down the country do this every day. Prepare as best you can by preparing a very short list of questions most pertinent to your situation. The lawyer will resist giving advice that is specific to your case but you’ll increase your understanding of how family law applies to you and what your options are.
4. What support do I need from a lawyer?
It is important to stay in charge of this. Depending on your circumstances you may only need some light touch legal advice. Following a free legal consultation, you can request a consultation of 45-mins to 1-hour that includes a letter of advice. Expect this to cost in the region of £100 to £300 (excl. Vat). This will ultimately depend on the hourly rate of the lawyer. Outside London, a senior family lawyer will charge between £200 to £220 (excl. Vat) per hour. In London and the South East, expect to pay north of £250 (excl. Vat) per hour for a similarly experienced lawyer.
5. Can I get a fixed fee?
Yes, you can. Depending on the extent of support you need, help with a Divorce Petition, and the preparation of a Consent Order (recording a financial agreement), can both be purchased on fixed fee terms. Whether the lawyer you’re speaking to advertises them or not! So always ask. Depending where in the country you live, a divorce lawyer will typically charge a fixed fee of between £500 to £900 (excl. Vat and court fee) to compile and submit your divorce Petition assuming your separating partner cooperates. And depending on the complexity of your case, a fixed fee for preparing a Consent Order is likely to be between £500 and £1,500 (excl. VAT) depending on its complexity.
6. What if I need more help?
If you need more extensive support - such as resolving child arrangements and/or financial matters - it is unlikely a family lawyer will agree a fixed fee. You and your separating partner will therefore shoulder the risk of legal fees escalating and one or other of you running out of money. Budget to pay in region of £6,000 each for two lawyers to thrash out an out-of-court settlement for child arrangements and financial matters. Of course, most separating couples don’t have this kind of money. Not surprisingly, many people turn to divorce lawyers for ad hoc support to keep down their fees. This isn’t always ideal because it is difficult for a lawyer to advise or represent you effectively, if they’re not involved throughout the case.
7. Keep talking and bring down your legal bills
Assuming the absence of domestic abuse, keeping a dialogue with your separating partner – even if it’s far from perfect – is your best step forward. For a start, it means you have a greater prospect of purchasing the part of the lawyer you need most: the expert adviser who has your back and will always advise in your best interests. Moreover, keeping a dialogue means you – and your separating partner – can purchase all the legal advice you need on fixed fee terms. When combined with family mediation – a demonstrably effective space for reaching agreement over all family matters – you’ll bring down the cost of full support by an order of magnitude. ‘Lawyer-Supported Mediation’ as it’s called, costs around half of what you could end up paying a lawyer to do everything for you.
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Relationship issues can shake us to the core. The law also has a lot to say about the interests of children and - if you’re married - family finances. So whatever you’re thinking just now, it makes sense to be informed
It is why DAD.info partners family support specialist Dialogue First. They are unique in running a fully integrated network of family lawyers that meet our expectations around affordability and promote communication at what can be an extremely difficult time.
If you live in England & Wales, Dialogue First is ready to offer you – and your partner – an individual free of charge telephone consultation with a family lawyer.
To arrange your free telephone consultation, click here.
About the author
Marc Lopatin is the CEO and founder of Dialogue First - a nationwide network of divorce lawyers, family mediators and support professionals, helping separating families communicate throughout.
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