To have and to hold. For better for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health. Till death do us part.
Sounded great on the day, didn’t it? And you meant it, too. Of course you did. But you’re also not a psychic. How were you to know it was going to turn out like this? Now, here you are, staring down the barrel of a divorce (a divorce!), and preparing to pull the legal trigger.
Yes, things are probably about to get a tad messy. Almost certainly, if there are children involved. But don’t fret just yet, as there remain a number of tactics you can employ, to ensure your heart doesn’t rule your head, and you are fully equipped for the battle (and it is a battle) ahead.
Below we have brought together a chorus of legal pros, all of whom are chockful of expert, insider info, to help give you the edge amid the murky, legal quagmire that is a marital breakup.
Even better for your bank balance, they are doing it pro bono.
Be Ready To Hand Over All Your Data
Privacy is underrated. Except, that is, when it comes to divorce.
“Many people don’t realize how invasive the divorce process can be,” says James Maguire, MD at Maguire Family Law.
“If you are seeking a divorce, prepare to hand over your bank statements, pensions information, details of any investments and properties – including the matrimonial home.” It doesn’t stop there, even student loans and car payments need to be thrown into the mix.
While this all may seem intrusive, the upside is that “Collating and preparing this information prior to instructing a solicitor may reduce legal fees.”
Maguire adds: “It will certainly also make it easier for your solicitor to quickly give you a range of options for reaching a sensible financial settlement with your ex.”
You’re (Probably) Not Going To Court
Fingers crossed this is your first divorce – unlike trips to Starbucks, return business is neither encouraged nor incentivized – and if so, you might be surprised to hear that an epic showdown in a courtroom seldom comes to pass.
Sorry, fans of drama (and/or courtroom dramas), but it’s in your interest to keep things civil
“One of the most common misconceptions about the divorce process is that people have to go to court,” says Caroline Elliot, Partner at Shakespeare Martineau.
“Unless the case is defended, which is very rare [see below], the dissolving of the marriage is done on paper.”
Sorry, fans of drama (and/or courtroom dramas), but it’s in your interest to keep things civil, and play the whole thing out from the comfort of an office chair.
It’s Not Worth Defending Your Marriage
If your spouse wants a divorce, but you don’t – or you disagree with their stated reason (e.g. ‘unreasonable behavior’) – then it is your legal right to defend the allegations. Of course, this means you’ll have to convince a court that your marriage is not over, despite the fact your partner is altogether certain it is.
If you insist on walking up those court steps, odds are you’re merely delaying the inevitable
“It is generally not worth defending a divorce,” confirms Patricia Beckett, from Wilson Solicitors in London. “Defending a divorce is costly in terms of time, money and energy.
“It is possible to say you disagree with the contents of your spouse’s divorce petition, but still agree you don’t intend to defend it.”
Beyond the (incredibly valid) concerns of time, cash and mental bandwidth, do bear in mind that if you insist on walking up those court steps, odds are you’re merely delaying the inevitable – the court may still rule against you.
But If You Do, Don’t Try To Score Points
So, you’re going to court. That’s absolutely fine – it’s your legal right etc – however don’t use it as a chance to convince a room of people that you are a poor, wounded victim, and your soon to be ex-partner is the actual devil.
“The court is unconcerned with whose fault the marriage breakdown is, so don’t waste energy on that,” says Becket. “It will rarely alter anything – regarding children or finances – unless it is behavior of an extreme relevant nature.”
Never Accept Legal Advice From Other Divorcees
“Everyone has a story about divorce – whether their own or that of someone they know,” says Beckett.
“However, everyone’s circumstances are different, so don’t be led by others, especially regarding financial awards or contact arrangements.”
What you should look for, Beckett asserts, is “professional advice from a Resolution accredited family solicitor, even if you just have a one-off session to get some basic advice.”
Or Think You’re Better Off Doing It Yourself
This is not Hollywood. This is real life. Your real life. So if you had a dream that saw you represent yourself in court (“You know, like in movies!”) and emerge victorious, you’re best advised to chalk it up to gone-off cheese.
If you sign a deal with your ex that you’re not happy with later on, the courts won’t be willing to support you
Or, in slightly less polite terms, solicitors earn their fees for a very good reason, and in the same way you wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself, you’re almost always best served leaving specialist things to those well and truly in the know.
“Sorting out financials can be extremely tricky and there are lots of areas where people can trip up,” confirms Elliot. “Trying to deal with this yourself may seem tempting, but if you sign a deal with your ex that you’re not happy with later on, the courts won’t be willing to support you in setting it aside.”
Instead, Choose The Right Legal Representative
No two divorces are exactly the same, because each individual divorcee brings a unique set of factors to the negotiating table.
“Although the legal process involved in divorce is standardized, financial matters and arrangements regarding children of the marriage differ in every case,” says Maguire.
A very wealthy couple’s negotiations could include several UK and overseas properties, a pension, share portfolio and a family business
Put another way – don’t simply plump for the dude with the slick haircut and flashy website, or the nice lady that fixed your friend’s ‘quickie divorce’ on a budget. Think for – and about – yourself.
“It is very important to ensure that your chosen solicitor has the relevant experience and expertise to handle your case,” Maguire adds.
“Financial matters, for example, may be as simple as splitting a bank account and reaching an agreement over the former matrimonial home. On the flip side, a very wealthy couple’s negotiations could include several UK and overseas properties, a pension, share portfolio and a family business.
“Clearly, the solicitor dealing with the latter divorce would need a deep understanding of financial products, foreign properties and business.”
It’s Good To Talk
“Many people have no desire to communicate with their former partner, which is understandable,” says Maguire. “[But] the quickest and easiest divorces are usually those in which the parties have had a level-headed discussion about how to split their assets. In taking the time to communicate in this way, both are then able to instruct solicitors with a relatively clear idea about how matters will proceed.”
Try to avoid ending up in court disputing financial settlements – it can be extremely stressful
What’s more, beyond the fact that playing nice is the sensible, grown up thing to do, it also helps keep your bill down.
“As hard as it may seem,” says Elliot, “communicating well and being reasonable are extremely important. If possible, try to avoid ending up in court disputing financial settlements – it can be extremely stressful for all parties and can end up taking up a huge amount of time and money.”
But Do Plan For It To Get Ugly
Hope for the best; prepare for the worst. As life credos go, it’s not half bad. And it’s also strongly advised in a legal situation. Why? So you always stay a couple steps ahead, and aren’t blindsided by surprises.
It is worthwhile considering what would be your best and worst case scenarios with regards to your assets
“Unfortunately,” Maguire says, “divorce can bring out the worst in people, and for this reason it is worthwhile considering what would be your best and worst case scenarios with regards to your assets and arrangements.
“While your solicitor will advise you on what you could expect if the matter were to be decided by a judge, it is usually more sensible to try to reach agreement between the parties. This approach is typically much more cost effective, and although there may need to be compromise on both sides, it is usually preferable to going to court.”
Never Lie To A Lawyer
An easy one to finish, this, and yet some people still approach honesty with their legal representative in the same way they do their doctor. (“How many units of alcohol do I consume weekly? Oh, well, to be perfectly honest I only really have a dabble on special occasions – maybe a small sherry at Christmas,” said the alcoholic.)
“Be honest with your lawyer,” Elliot says. “We’ve pretty much seen and heard it all, so don’t hide things you feel may be detrimental to your case. Remember: we are there to help you.”