Before you engage a solicitor – or even find out whether you will need one – you need to explore your options, decide if you’d like to work with this particular solicitor, and figure out a way forward. Most solicitors will offer you an initial consultation of 30-45 minutes without charge to talk about family law issues such as divorce and separation. Many people arrive with the expectation that the solicitor will be able to give them detailed information on a financial settlement or child arrangements, however these appointments are only meant to provide an introduction and general information on the issues involved. It is simply not possible to provide detailed advice without all the necessary information and within such a short space of time. For personalised, detailed, specific advice, you will need to work with a solicitor in much more depth, so that they can give you tailor-made advice to suit your unique circumstances.
One size does not fit all, and legal considerations are entirely subjective. Think of this initial appointment as an opportunity to ask general questions, discuss the options available to you, and begin to make a plan of action.
Often, during free consultations we are asked very specific questions by prospective clients, such as:
- How much will my divorce cost? Without knowing what the process will involve, or the stance your spouse will take, there is no way of telling this to the exact penny, but we can usually give you an estimate based on each different approach to divorce.
- How much will I get in a financial settlement? Again, without having all the relevant documentation, a detailed list of assets and liabilities, and an idea of how you and your spouse are hoping to divide things up, it’s impossible to give a solid answer to this one during the first consultation.
- Can I get a quickie divorce? No, because there’s no such thing [link to blog 1], but there are ways to make the process as fast and streamlined as possible – however, these require a fair bit of collaboration and cooperation between you and your spouse.
- What’s going to happen with children’s arrangements? This is an extremely personal and subjective issue that will depend on a whole host of factors, such as how well you and your spouse are able to work together to form a co-parenting plan, your working/childcare arrangements, whether one of you requires maintenance – not to mention the emotional side of things. Children’s arrangements need to be handled sensitively and practically, with the children’s well-being in mind, and we would usually suggest taking the route of mediation or collaborative family law.
- Can I get a divorce on the basis of ‘irreconcilable differences’? No, because that’s only available in the US. Under UK law, until no-fault divorce becomes available, all divorces are issued on the grounds that ‘the marriage has broken down irretrievably’ and this must be supported by one of five facts, three of which require waiting periods of two or five years. Your solicitor can help you find the best option for you. the closest alternative we have is ‘unreasonable behaviour’ which can cover a huge spread of issues, but would need to be discussed in much more detail.
- Who gets to keep the house/family pet? Once again, these are complex issues that need to be dealt with on a case by case basis, and we cannot give a straight answer to any question regarding assets or chattels without all the relevant information. As with all the other questions above, we’d usually only be able to give you general information at this point (but you can also read our blogs on housing issues and how to deal with ‘custody’ of the family pet on our blog.
The main point of a free legal consultation is to meet the solicitor, see if you get on and will be able to work together (keeping in mind that the divorce process can take months, if not years in some cases), and to discuss your situation in general terms to find the right way forward.
From there, you’ll need to decide if you want to engage the solicitor’s services, and what approach is best suited for your circumstances. While we will always do our best to give you as much information as possible, the process of divorce, separation, and other legal issues are unique to the individuals involved, and broad advice isn’t enough to cover it. But once you’ve found a solicitor you want to work with, you’ll be able to go into much more detail, work on a more personal level, and tailor the process more closely to your needs.