The importance of using a specialist divorce lawyer

In my role heading up CL4Women I have met many female clients and professionals who are going through, or have recently gone through, the painful process of a divorce. It is such a stressful time for any woman and it often leads to many financial uncertainties. Here, Caroline Elliott of Shakespeare Martineau Solicitors explains why using a specialist Family Lawyer can help you through a divorce.

Divorce or separation from a long-term partner is never easy to deal with, and for women the emotional anguish is often compounded by having to tackle financial issues that they may never have had to consider before.

In any settled relationship it is usually the case that one partner oversees the finances, and even in the 21stCentury it is often the man who assumes this role and has the knowledge and understanding of the couple’s assets. When a relationship ends, the woman is often also left to navigate an entirely alien landscape of financial problems and questions, often with little idea of where to turn.

As a family solicitor, the first part of my role with a new client is always getting to understand what has happened and what the urgent issues are. Moving on from that, trying to resolve the sharing of assets on a divorce so that both partners can look to the future independently is often the key aspect. With couples who are not married, this can be very difficult, because contrary to popular myth there is no automatic right to the sharing of assets or to financial support going forward. In those cases the role of the lawyer is to try to achieve the best outcome within the limits imposed by the law – if you find yourself in this situation I would recommend seeking legal advice from a family lawyer as early as possible.

With married couples, there is no one answer to how financial issues are settled on divorce, and there are any number of possible outcomes. This is because English law does not have a set formula (which some legal jurisdictions do) as to how things should be resolved. The English courts operate a highly-discretionary decision-making system, which has its basis in statute law but has evolved over the years by the decisions of judges in numerous cases – this is known as case law.  

It is because there is no ‘formula’ or ‘right’ answer – judges are fond of saying that each case is unique to its facts – that getting legal advice is so important. What people may think is fair or right may not have any basis in law. For example, there is no automatic right to half of everything, or to continued financial support for years into the future.

One aspect which many women find very hard to deal with is the expectation of a court that they will move to a degree of independence. Courts are very clear that when a marriage is over, there should be a clean break between the parties to the marriage, which means no ongoing financial support. That does not mean that monthly maintenance will never be paid, but it is important to understand that lifetime maintenance payments are very much the exception than the norm. For the often financially weaker woman this is a further blow at a very difficult time.

This is why it is so important to get expert advice and understand your position. Your solicitor can help you negotiate a settlement which provides as much as it can for your needs. Trying to do it yourself invariably leads to a settlement which does not meet reasonable needs, and if this is made into a court order by agreement, there is no going back on the deal. 

On a divorce couples can also share pensions in the name of one person with each other. This is a specialist area and when advising clients on this aspect it is invaluable to work with a qualified financial adviser, who can provide valuable advice and a real insight into what income or other benefits will be provided through the shared pension. It is also immensely helpful to work with a financial adviser on future budgeting – clients who have never had to work with a budget before find it a great relief to be coached through that process. Advising clients on divorce is really a team effort, not just the solicitor but the financial adviser and the client all have their parts to play.

I hope that the above article has been helpful. If you or your family or friends require expert Family Lawyer advice then please get in touch and we would be happy to refer you to Caroline.