Nobody wants to pay unnecessary legal fees, particularly when getting divorced may well put a strain on your finances anyway. Of course, you need to think about whether a divorce lawyer is affordable and offers good value. But you also need to ask yourself whether getting divorced without using a lawyer is a realistic option or would risk causing serious problems
Can you afford a divorce lawyer?
There is a simple reason why you might want to avoid using a lawyer: an understandable concern about the cost.
If neither of you have any money, then a divorce lawyer might be unaffordable. Unfortunately, legal aid is rarely available for divorce but you may be able to get help towards the cost of mediation if you cannot afford it. Legal aid may also be available if you are a victim of domestic violence or a child is at risk. Check your eligibility for legal aid or call Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4 345.
If you personally cannot afford a lawyer - but your spouse has money - the situation is different. Your spouse may agree to help with your living costs and legal fees to help resolve things quickly. If your spouse refuses, you can apply to the court for maintenance pending suit. This means that your spouse has to support you until a final financial settlement has been agreed.
If you are worried about legal fees, talk to a family law solicitor about it. Your lawyer can provide guidance on the likely costs. Provided you can expect to receive a financial settlement, some lawyers may be prepared to defer their fees or you may want to consider arranging a loan.
Do you need a divorce lawyer?
If you are a young, childless couple who have only been married a few years, a DIY divorce may well be a realistic option.
If your divorce involves significant financial issues, it may be more sensible to use a lawyer. The costs of making a mistake could be much greater than any legal fees you pay. It can be particularly important to get advice if:
- one of you is financially dependent on the other, for example if you have given up work to look after children;
- your divorce settlement needs to reflect the value of more complicated financial assets, such as pension funds, business interests, trusts or overseas assets;
- you have joint debts and aren't sure how to sort them out;
- you think your partner is hiding information about the true financial position;
- you want to be sure that you settle financial claims once and for all by getting a consent order.
Ideally the arrangements for any children will be agreed between the two of you. You may need to take legal advice if:
- you cannot agree where the children will live and what contact rights the other parent will have;
- you cannot agree child maintenance and one of you feels that statutory child maintenance is not enough (for example, if the non-resident parent is a very high earner or there are extra costs such as private school fees);
- the family includes stepchildren.
Other situations where you should consider using a family law solicitor include if:
- you need to take urgent action: for example, because you think your spouse is about to file for divorce in another country or take your children abroad;
- you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse, or think that your child is at risk;
- your spouse owns or rents the home you live in and you are worried about being left homeless;
- there are international issues: for example, if you spend part of your lives overseas or one of you is a non-UK national;
- you know your spouse is going to be difficult, you find it difficult to negotiate with your spouse or you feel under pressure to agree with what your spouse wants;
- you are simply finding it all too much to cope with;
- you continue to have problems after the divorce: for example, your ex-spouse fails to make maintenance payments or refuses you contact with the children.
Often, it is a good idea to at least have an initial consultation with a lawyer to check what particular issues you should be concerned about and get an idea of what you can reasonably expect.
Even if you are able to negotiate an agreement between yourselves, you should consider having the paperwork checked by a solicitor before signing anything - to ensure you are getting a fair deal and are avoiding any major pitfalls. Simply ticking the wrong box on a form can have serious consequences.
Finding a family law solicitor
The easiest way to find a divorce lawyer is using the Law Society find a solicitor directory. Search for a family law solicitor by choosing 'family and relationships' from the list of legal issues. You may also want to ask friends for any advice on lawyers they know or have used.
Check that any lawyer you are considering using is a family law specialist. Family law solicitors may be a member of an appropriate Law Society accreditation scheme, showing that they have demonstrated their expertise in that area of law. For divorce and family law solicitors, the relevant schemes are Family Law, Family Law Advanced and Children Law.
Most lawyers will offer you a free initial consultation - either in person or over the phone. This is a good opportunity to make sure you are comfortable with the individual you will be dealing with during what can be a difficult and emotional time.