Going through a separation or divorce can be one of the most stressful times of your life because it can tip your whole world upside down. Separating from your partner obviously has an emotional impact but also a very practical one. You may have to adjust work patterns to fit in with child care, change your living arrangements and work out a new financial budget.
Trying to adjust and consider all of the practical issues alongside the emotions of a separation is often overwhelming and it is difficult to know where to turn. A family lawyer might not be the first person that comes to mind, but there are a number of ways in which a family lawyer can help you by providing advice on your options and your rights, assisting you with negotiations and signposting you in the right direction of others that can support you.
Often it will be necessary to discuss and agree practical arrangements with your ex-partner, especially around the issues of the arrangements for children and financial matters and some of these issues need to be considered with some urgency.
It goes without saying that every circumstance is difference and therefore there is not a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to sorting out any problems that need resolving. At Lupton Fawcett we have a sympathetic and experienced family team who are committed to explaining the options to you and helping you decide what the best way forward is in your particular circumstance.
The main choices are:
Lawyer led negotiations
You could instruct a family lawyer to act on your behalf. Your family lawyer will assist you thorough the process of disclosing your financial circumstances to each other and where necessary instruct experts to value assets such as property, pensions and businesses to ensure you are in a position to make a fully informed decision. Your lawyer can then advise you on your options and negotiate on your behalf, usually through a series of letters and telephone conversations.
If an agreement is reached your lawyer can prepare any necessary documentation to record the agreement and ensure that it becomes legally binding.
Family mediators are trained in trying to help separating couples reach an agreement. Usually it would involve parties sitting in the same room together, with a mediator who will help them collate any necessary information such as details about their financial circumstances, explore the options and reach an agreement going forwards. The mediator can help you discuss the practical consequences of your separation with your ex-partner so that you can focus discussions on how to minimise the impact of your separation on each of you and your children and work out solutions for the future. The discussions are confidential and the mediator is impartial and therefore will not take sides.
Alongside taking part in mediation you will be encouraged to seek your own independent legal advice. Ultimately the mediators can prepare a summary of your agreed proposals for you to discuss with your lawyers and, if appropriate, can convert this summary into a legally binding agreement.
Mediation is often much cheaper and quicker than the other options that are available.
In many ways this is a similar process to mediation, but instead of having an impartial mediator assisting you in reaching an agreement, you will each appoint a specially trained collaborative lawyer who will support and advise you throughout. The discussions will take place in a series of meetings with you, your ex-partner and both lawyers present where you can explore options to find the best solutions for you.
When starting this process you would all sign an agreement confirming your commitment to reaching an agreement without going to court
Family arbitration involves you and your ex-partner appointing an arbitrator. Usually you would also instruct a lawyer to advise and assist you as well as put forward your position and arguments to the arbitrator.
You invite the arbitrator to make decisions about the issues that have arisen from your separation and the decision they make is binding. You have the flexibility to ask the arbitrator to make decisions on specific issues or give them a wider remit.
The arbitration process is very flexible and can cut out much of the time delays that would be inevitable in court proceedings.
Although it is often said, and rightly so, that court should be the option of last resort, there are circumstances where it is the right choice to make.
By making an application to court you invite the court to manage the process by setting out a timetable which usually includes a series of court hearings. In proceedings about property and financial matters the court will order each party to provide full details of their financial circumstances. In matters relating to the arrangements of children preliminary safeguarding checks will be performed. If the proceedings reach a final hearing then a judge will make a decision that will be legally binding.
It may be appropriate to go to court if the relationship was abusive or if you cannot reach any agreement with your ex-partner after trying one or more of the approaches mentioned above. If your ex-partner refuses to engage in negotiations, fails to provide full details of their financial circumstances, deliberately delays progress or if there are welfare issues then making an application to court may also be the best option for you.
How can we help
Dealing with sensitive issues in a confrontational way is rarely the right way forwards. All of our solicitors in the Family team are members of Resolution and are committed to adhering to their code of conduct. Resolution are a group of over 6,500 family law professionals who are dedicated to easing the pain and financial cost of a separation by approaching matters in a way to reduce conflict.
If you would like to speak to a member of the team regarding any of the issues raised in this article, or any other family law matter please feel free to contact: Chris Burns, who is the head of our family law department; Sophie Arrowsmith a member of our team in the Leeds office Richard Buckley who is a member of the team in the Sheffield office or Andrew Smith who is a member of our York office.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.