Eight tips for getting the best out of your divorce lawyer
Coodes Solicitors Family lawyer Karen Pritchard shares eight tips to help you get the best from your divorce lawyer.
Going through a divorce will always be stressful. One way to ease some of the pressure is to work with your divorce lawyer in the best possible way. This can help you avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings, which can make the divorce process more difficult, expensive and time consuming.
Here are eight tips to help you get the best out of your divorce lawyer.
1. Read your solicitor’s communication carefully
Going through a divorce inevitably means dealing with paperwork. Whether your lawyer communicates with you by email or post, ensure you carefully read all of their correspondence. Their letters are likely to include important details, such as dates of hearings, time sensitive requests for information and instructions for you to follow.
A surprising number of people miss these details, for example failing to return signed copies of forms. This can impact on the whole divorce process, causing delays and making the divorce more expensive.
So, take time to read your divorce lawyer’s letters properly and contact them if you are unsure of anything.
2. Provide your divorce lawyer with the information they request
Your divorce lawyer will need evidence to represent you in your divorce proceedings. These are likely to be documents relating to your assets and liabilities to support you in achieving a fair financial settlement.
They may ask for your marriage certificate, copies of bank statements and papers relating to your pension, for example. Your lawyer will only request the information they need. If they ask for something, provide it as quickly as possible to avoid hold ups.
3. Get your papers in order
Over the years, clients have presented me with carrier bags stuffed full of unsorted bank statements and other papers. These days, I am more likely to receive scans or photographs of papers by email. Whether you are sending your lawyer papers electronically or in hard copy, ensure they are organised, easy to read and in a logical order. If you are emailing copies of documents, ensure the scans or photographs are clear.
If your lawyer has to separate out bank statements into different accounts and put them in date order or check with you what particular papers relate to, this will add considerable time, which you are paying for.
4. Focus on the big picture
Whatever your circumstances, going through a divorce is likely to be an emotional and overwhelming experience. That can make it difficult to stay on track and focus on the relevant issues. Your lawyer should support you to help your divorce proceedings go as smoothly as possible. That means staying focused on the big issues that need sorting out.
Try to remember the big picture rather than getting side tracked. For example, do you need to argue over every household item? Divorcing couples often disagree on valuing and separating out their belongings. Emotions can run high and these disputes often add considerable time and expense to the divorce. In fact, the cost of sorting out these differences often far exceeds the value of the possessions in question.
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5. Ignore the barrack-room lawyers
People often come to me quoting friends who have completed their divorce proceedings within a particular timeframe or achieved a specific financial settlement. Ignore anecdotal advice and remember that the circumstances of your divorce are unique.
The courts take many different factors into consideration when agreeing a fair settlement. What might seem to be a very similar case could in fact be quite different once you get into the detail.
While it can be tempting to listen to stories from friends and acquaintances, remember that your divorce case is not the same as theirs.
6. If you don’t understand something, ask
When you start divorce proceedings, you will encounter a whole host of legal terminology. You will also be faced with trying to understand the divorce process. You cannot be expected to know everything and your lawyer should be happy to answer any questions along the way.
I always strive to use plain English when explaining anything to my clients. However, a divorce can be very complex. It might involve grappling with difficult technical issues, particularly if you have multiple properties, own a business or need to share a pension.
If you are confused or unsure at any point, speak out. When I advise clients, I never think any question is too stupid. It is always best to ask straight away rather than risk misunderstandings, which could cause difficulties further down the line.
7. Prepare questions and take notes
When you meet with your divorce lawyer, you are likely to have a lot of questions. However, you may forget some of these during the meeting. After all, your lawyer will be providing you with information, advice and instructions, which might distract you from your queries.
Preparing a list of questions to take with you will help you get the best out of your time with your lawyer. It will ensure you cover off everything you needed to and avoid having to arrange another meeting.
It is also worthwhile taking notes during a meeting. That way you can keep track of any information and jot down anything you need to do.
8. Remember your divorce lawyer is not a counsellor or therapist
As a divorce lawyer it is important for me to be sympathetic and a good listener. After all, most of my clients are going through difficult experiences.
When you meet with your divorce lawyer you might feel emotional and may have a lot to get off your chest. However, your lawyer is not a trained therapist or counsellor. They cannot help you to make a decision about whether or not to divorce and are not trained to support you through the emotional issues you are facing. That role is best performed by a professional counsellor or even a supportive friend or family member.
You may find it hard to resist the opportunity to offload all of your resentments and grievances to your lawyer. However, it is important to understand that the conduct of a spouse is unlikely to have an effect on financial claims in divorce proceedings in very exceptional circumstances. That means your husband or wife’s behaviour is highly unlikely to make a difference to the court’s decision.
Your divorce lawyer is there to provide you with expert legal advice to reach a settlement in a conciliatory way. Their focus should be on achieving the best and fairest outcome, not scoring points against the other spouse. So, if you can resist the urge to get drawn into petty squabbles, that will significantly help the process, ultimately saving you time, money and stress.