Here at Bonallack and Bishop, our family lawyers are hugely experienced. In our experience some mistakes made when getting divorced or going through relationship breakdown are avoidable – so here are some of our tips which we have picked up over years of practical experience
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Mistake 1 – Believing your spouse will be fair and co-operative
Most people facing a divorce are emotionally vulnerable and upset, and many are in a state of denial. “My spouse would never treat me this way” is something solicitors often hear. Whilst a good divorce solicitor will do everything they can to avoid disagreement and promote co-operation, this is not always possible.
Our advice – be aware that your spouse may be looking out for number 1. Once you are involved in a court case, you are part of an adversarial system. You may wish to adopt an attitude of lower expectations – expect the worse and be surprised.
However, if yours is the sort of marriage where you think you can sensibly negotiate with your spouse, where you are both thinking realistically and are prepared to compromise to reach a reasonable settlement, we recommend you give serious thought to using the Collaborative Law or family mediation process.
Click here to read more about how Family Mediation could help you.
Mistake 2 – Having totally unrealistic expectations or demands on what you are gaining from a divorce
Too many people start divorce proceedings expecting that they will get everything they want. Often those demands are exaggerated. Since finances, children, property, a business or a pension are in dispute, you will need to make your demands reasonable and not expect that you will get everything.
Our advice – the key in approaching divorce is to have realistic expectations, focus on problem solving and do everything you can to help your own case and ultimately limit legal costs being increased unnecessarily.
Mistake 3 – Withholding information from your divorce solicitor
Some people do not trust their solicitors, even though the solicitor is representing them. By withholding information about their future plans or financial assets, they try to maintain control over the situation. Some try to pull the wool over their solicitors’ eyes but most end up fooling themselves.
What’s more, in negotiating a divorce settlement, full financial disclosure is essential. That means that both parties are expected to the completely open and provide full details of all their assets and liabilities – which will include pension details, expenses and wages (with documents for proof). However, if you failed to provide this information, your spouse will need to make a formal application to the Court who will then set an enforceable deadline for full disclosure. Form E’s (a court form detailing all finances) must be exchanged by this date otherwise the Court may carry out its own investigations and may penalise the non-compliant party – especially if the court think they have tried to hide assets.
Our advice – you need to present a clear picture of what your motives are and if you want your solicitor to do an effective job, they need the whole truth.
Mistake 4 – Allowing emotions rather than allow logic to rule your legal decisions
Many people going through divorce are emotionally distraught, or they think they are right 100% of the time and they are being victimised by some evil person. If you let your emotions gain control rather than reason and logic, you will undermine your own case.
Our advice – become reflective rather than reactive. Anxious people often don’t hear what is said correctly nor do they express themselves well.
Mistake 5 – Not asking enough questions or signing documentation without asking questions
Many people are intimidated by the divorce process and even sometimes by their own solicitors, and instead of asking questions accept everything in blind faith. That doesn’t work. Instead make sure that you ask as many questions about your settlement as you would if you were buying a car or a house. Be thoughtful and analytical.
Our advice – ask your divorce solicitor for an honest view of what your chances are to obtain assets, home and money. Decide what it is that you really want, and then ask questions of your solicitor to make sure you do everything to get what you realistically want.
Mistake 6 – Expecting the legal system to be fair and that the court will see things from your point of view
No matter how much you think you are right, the Judge can see issues from another viewpoint, not always yours. Furthermore because of procedural rules, Judges often rule on limited information. They don’t care if you are nice.
Our advice – don’t expect that your viewpoint, no matter how fair and reasonable, will prevail. The more sceptical and balanced you are, the better you can solve problems and obtain the most favourable outcome.
Mistake 7 – Not checking facts or figures given to you
Contrary to popular belief, solicitors are human. They make mistakes. Equally your spouse may not have given the correct information or may be withholding information.
Our advice – although many people are intimidated by complicated court forms, or simply want the divorce sorted as soon as possible, you must read all documents to ensure accuracy. Once something enters a Judge’s memory, or worse still, is incorrectly recorded in a court order, it may be too late to correct it.
Mistake 8 – Allowing too much time to pass
Understandably too many people going through divorce proceedings don’t want to be bothered by rules and court deadlines. They may simply bury their head in the sand and hope that the issue will go away.
Our advice – although you should never be rushed into anything by your solicitor, don’t unnecessarily postpone decisions or put off providing requested information. Especially don’t delay providing information ordered by the court. Equally if the court order is made and you need to enforce it – don’t allow too much time to pass.
Mistake 9 – Not taking independent financial advice on your divorce
Divorce proceedings involve all your assets, including property and pensions, all of which have tax implications.
Our advice – make sure you understand the consequences of divorce. Do you know whether child maintenance is tax deductible? Equally what is the most effective way of dealing with your new financial position? Do you have the right life assurances and appropriate pension provision given your new circumstances?
Mistake 10 – Not knowing your own financial position
Many people in a divorce, especially women, have no idea what they really have financially.
Our advice – you need to make sure that you are aware of every asset and investment – from pensions through to life assurance – and make sure you have full documentation. Make sure that you have copies of all relevant materials – this information will put you in a better negotiating position and should save you money as your solicitor won’t have to bill you for time spent tracking down the documents. Read every financial statement and make sure you understand them – if not make sure you ask.
Mistake 11 – Don’t assume that you know what your future financial position will be
Many people assume that there will be a straight 50/50 split of the family assets. Whilst this may well be appropriate in long marriages where there are no dependent children, it may not be appropriate in other cases – eg. short marriages, cases with dependent children or where the parties’ earning potential are significantly different. An equal division of family assets is not necessarily fair.
Our advice – don’t make assumptions and don’t just agree something with your spouse without taking expert legal advice from a specialist divorce solicitor. Trying to deal with any relationship break up in a friendly fashion as possible should always be the aim; but equally you do need to make sure that you are safeguarding your future financial position.
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We have a team of five specialist lawyers at our offices in Salisbury, Fordingbridge, Andover and Amesbury and represent clients both locally in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset – and throughout England and Wales.