Ten top tips to consider when separating
Even though your relationship might not have worked, it does not mean that you cannot build a strong co-parenting relationship
Seek independent legal advice at an early stage from a good solicitor
You want to know what you are entitled to but do not know where to start. A scattergun approach of speaking to lots of firms is not advisable; go for quality over quantity.
Speak to friends or contacts and see if you can get a personal recommendation for a good family lawyer, ideally one who is a member of Resolution which is a community of family law professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way. Look to the ‘Legal 500’ or ‘Chambers and Partners’ for solicitors ranked highly in their fields in your geographical area.
Think about what you want to find out before you speak to a solicitor
From your first meeting with your solicitor you want to walk away feeling informed. For further guidance, see our recent article where we share some top tips on how to get the most out of your first meeting with your family solicitor.
Separating can be tough to manage in conjunction with working, looking after children and keeping a home running, so being organised and spending some time to put systems in place from the outset will assist moving forwards.
- Think about a separate email address to manage your communications and information about your separation.
- Consider changing your online passwords for banking, email, and social media accounts.
- If you are considering divorce or dissolution, have you got your marriage/civil partnership certificate? If you have misplaced the original, a copy can be ordered from the General Register Office.
- Start to gather the financial information which will help your solicitor better understand your financial circumstances, which in turn will enable them to better assess the scope of any financial settlement.
Discuss and agree with your solicitor how you are going to fund your legal fees
Most law firms will require payment in full on a monthly basis and will not want to wait to be paid at the conclusion of your case.
- Consider borrowing options, including specialist litigation loans.
- Costs payable to third parties (‘disbursements’), such as court fees must usually be paid in advance, and your solicitor may request a sum of money (called a ‘payment on account’) from you towards your future legal fees to enable them to start working for you.
- Ensure that you obtain a costs estimate from your solicitor – and read it carefully. If you have any questions – ask.
- Costs can soon spiral upwards if there is argument back and forth about every issue, including the kitchen sink! Put simply, the more time your solicitor spends dealing with matters for you, the more expensive it will become - the more letters you instruct your solicitor to write, the more they will receive in response and the higher the costs will be - so put your funds to good use where they will make the biggest difference to your settlement and future.
Decide how you want to separate
Believe it or not there is always a “better way” to separate. Your solicitor will explain the various options available to you at your first meeting.
Options include mediation, solicitor assisted mediation, solicitor led negotiation, collaborative practice, arbitration, or court proceedings.
Consider the options (which your solicitor will sign post you to) fully after the meeting.
If there are things that you can discuss and/or resolve with your partner directly, then try to do so. Not everything has to go through lawyers and maintaining a respectful line of communication can help resolve the more difficult issues that you may find it harder to work out later.
If you don’t have a good level of communication with your partner, can a third-party, perhaps a mutual friend or a family member, assist?
If you can try to maintain a respectful and open dialogue with your partner throughout the process it should help to keep your costs to a minimum.
Put children first
Even though your relationship might not have worked out, it does not mean that you cannot build a strong co-parenting relationship for the benefit of your children.
It should go without saying that you should shield any children from the process; don’t have discussions or malign the other parent in front of them, and make sure they are reassured that, whatever happens, you will both continue to be their parents, and that their needs will be met.
For those parents struggling with communication, applications such as ‘Our Family Wizard’ and ‘2Houses’ can be downloaded and used. Completing a Parenting Plan can help to record mutual agreements about how you plan to raise your children.
Try to agree interim arrangements
If you continue living in the same house until the process is finalised, whilst not ideal, it does tend to focus both sides in wanting to resolve matters as quickly as possible, and avoids the additional cost of how you might fund the family home and separate rental accommodation/child maintenance.
Whether you are going to continue living in the same property or apart, try to agree who will pay the outgoings in respect of the family home including, but not limited to, the mortgage and utility bills. Do you have sufficient income from all sources to meet your reasonable outgoings? Consider agreeing an interim arrangement with your partner pending conclusion of matters.
What will happen to any joint accounts? Should they be closed and direct debits transferred or will you keep them for now, but both agree how it is to be used? Remember, you will remain jointly and severally liable for any joint overdraft.
Get support during the process
A problem shared really is a problem halved and sometimes we can all benefit from a little outside perspective.
Your solicitor will be able to put you in touch with professional counsellors and therapists who specialise in relationship breakdown. Otherwise, you could speak to friends or family.
It would also be prudent to:
- Make or review your Will and consider Lasting Powers of Attorney.
- Assess the potential impact of capital gains tax and the timing of any transfers of property.
- Update nominated beneficiaries, e.g. for death in service benefits, pensions, life assurance.
- If you own a property jointly as joint tenants, consider whether to sever the joint tenancy and hold the property as tenants in common. Your solicitor will be able to explain what this means.
- If only one party owns the property, do you need to take any protective steps?
- If you reach a settlement directly with your partner, check with a solicitor whether it needs to be drawn up into a court order. On divorce/dissolution it is imperative that your agreement is drawn up by a solicitor into a consent order and submitted to court for approval by a judge to sever the financial ties between you, as the divorce or dissolution proceedings alone do not achieve this.
If there is anything you want to discuss or if you require any further assistance relating to the issues raised, please contact our family law solicitors.