The importance of early legal advice
When couples separate and/or are working out childcare arrangements, many go into the process with the best intentions of sorting things out themselves. However, even if things are amicable, most of the time a solicitor will end up getting involved; usually because the matter is far more complex than they realised or a dispute arises, despite all good intentions.
Seeking legal advice early on not only takes some of the pressure and stress out of the process, but helps prevent unnecessary conflict. It can even save you money in the long run.
Why do I need a family solicitor?
If you and your ex-partner have remained friends, you may be thinking of a DIY divorce. After all, you don’t have any children or significant assets so you just want to be legally separated, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, with DIY divorces, what you see is not always what you get. Many are attracted by the low cost of an online divorce, however, this fee doesn’t include court fees, the decree absolute or final order. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that you may have more shared assets than you realise, e.g. cars, credit cards, or even family heirlooms.
If you have children and/or a shared property, it’s particularly important to have an experienced family solicitor at your side from the outset instead of waiting until you’ve issued your own court application.
Reasons to use a solicitor
- Expertise: lawyers have years of studying and experience behind them which means they can guide you through the process, advising you on your options according to your circumstances and take the lead should disagreements happen.
- Avoid hidden costs: instructing a lawyer early on means that you won’t come across any hidden costs; a solicitor’s legal fees will include all those little extras you won’t have thought about such as application or court fees.
- Reduced stress: the emotional strain of ending a relationship and/or figuring out child arrangements is enough without having to think about the legal practicalities. Let the expert take the lead.
- Avoid conflict: even a ‘good divorce’ can struggle once the process of dividing assets and legally ending the relationship begins. A family solicitor can help keep things amicable, bringing in a mediator to resolve conflict if necessary. They can also represent you in court should you need it.
- Dividing finances: whether it’s sorting out who stays in the family home or dividing credit card debt, dividing finances is complicated. A solicitor can take this out of your hands, giving you peace of mind that it will be done properly.
- Admin: even if you and your ex-partner have agreed on childcare arrangements, this will need to be formalised, and you would be surprised at how much paperwork is involved! Your lawyer and their team will complete these documents for you and keep a record of anything important.
What happens if you can’t afford legal advice?
One of the reasons people avoid instructing a solicitor is cost. It’s no secret that legal fees can be expensive, and this is for various reasons, including the fact that lawyers undergo extensive training to be able to provide effective and proper legal advice, and this doesn’t stop once they qualify thanks to changing legislation.
There are various options available for paying legal fees. Legal aid is now only available to those who have experienced domestic abuse or where there are child protection concerns, but most solicitors offer funding options such as discounted initial meetings, fixed fees or payment plans, or can recommend third-party lenders.
I’ve never used a lawyer before. How does it work?
Most people won’t have a reason to use a solicitor until they buy a house, get divorced or lose a loved one and need help with the estate administration process. Instructing and meeting a solicitor can seem like a daunting process, but it doesn’t need to be. The majority of legal professionals are friendly and down to earth, and their priority is to put you at ease whilst providing sound legal advice.
Depending on the nature of your case, you will usually meet with your solicitor in person (if you are separating from or divorcing your ex-partner, they will not be able to come with you and will need their own solicitor) and they will take details of what you want to achieve and ask questions. These questions may be quite personal, such as whether you have experienced domestic abuse or conflict in the relationship, and about your finances. This enables them to fully understand your circumstances so that they can tailor their advice to you and for your benefit.
Once your lawyer has a clear picture of your situation, they can give you a rough estimate on timescales and costs.
After your first meeting, the solicitor will start work on your case. This could involve reading further papers, preparing your detailed letter of advice, liaising with the court or other experts such as financial advisors or a barrister, preparing correspondence to relevant third-party organisations to obtain further evidence, and drafting court documents such as applications and statements.
Every case is unique and the next steps will therefore depend on what stage you are at in terms of the legal process.
Looking for legal advice? Contact our family law solicitors
Whether you are looking to divorce or you and your ex-partner have separated and you would like advice on child arrangements, our expert family lawyers in Bristol can help. Call us on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form. Alternatively, you can make a start online.