Getting the best out of your divorce lawyer

Reviewed by Julian Hawkhead, senior partner, Stowe Family Law

Women outside on her phone talking to her divorce lawyer

A good divorce lawyer will offer you valuable advice, helping you through the divorce process and ensuring that you end up with a fair financial settlement and the right agreement about any children. But the last thing you want is to be paying unnecessary legal fees

It's up to you to make sure you use your lawyer the right way. The right approach will make things as easy as possible for both you and your lawyer, helping you avoid wasted time and costs.

Negotiating and compromising

Breaking off communication with your spouse and expecting your lawyer to deal with everything is rarely the right approach.

Wherever possible, you and your spouse should try to reach agreement between yourselves on as many things as you can. It's a good idea to ask your lawyer in advance what you can reasonably expect.

If you and your spouse cannot reach agreement, it may be worth seeing whether family mediation helps. Alternatively, you may want to try a collaborative law approach - where you, your spouse and both your lawyers sit down together to work things out.

Not all cases end up in court. Many are resolved by solicitors through negotiation.

Whatever approach you take, you must be prepared to compromise, particularly over trivia. Be clear about what you want but realistic about what is achievable. Divorce is about reaching a reasonable, fair agreement - and being able to move on with your life. It's worth remembering that who is 'right' or 'wrong' doesn't generally affect the outcome of a divorce.

There is no point spending thousands of pounds arguing over a minor point or trying to use the divorce process to punish your spouse. Remember that ultimately both your own and your spouse's legal fees are coming out of the money that is available to be shared between the two of you.

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Being organised

Being organised is essential.

You can help your divorce lawyer a lot by providing the information they need. It won't all be needed at once, but the sooner you can start getting it together the better. Use the divorce lawyer information checklist as a starting point.

Try to be open and honest with your lawyer, even if it's embarrassing. A lawyer needs accurate information to give you good advice. Your lawyer is going to do the best they can for you, not judge you.

You'll find it easier to be organised if you keep all your divorce paperwork together. It's also a good idea to write things down: whenever you think of a question you want to ask your lawyer or remember some information you need to pass on. Remembering everything is difficult, particularly when you are dealing with a stressful situation.

Being patient

Once the divorce process has started, you'll probably want it all to be over as soon as possible so that you can get on with your life. But it does take time. Even a relatively straightforward divorce often takes six or eight months, and financial negotiations can take longer.

Bear in mind too that it may not be a good idea to hurry your spouse, particularly if you are the one who is pushing for a divorce. It may take him or her time to adjust to the idea. Pushing for a faster resolution may increase the level of tension and conflict between you.

It's a good idea to be patient in terms of your lawyer's time as well. Every time you contact your lawyer it costs money. Unless it really is urgent, you're better off leaving the lawyer to get on with it rather than chasing up progress or asking one-off questions. Often, it's as easy (and much cheaper) to deal with lots of things at the same time, at a planned follow-up meeting.

Managing your emotions

Divorce is emotionally difficult. It's natural to want to explain things to your lawyer, particularly when you are feeling hurt by your partner and have things you want to get off your chest.

Your lawyer will want to understand what has happened and of course will be sympathetic. But it's important not to start relying on your divorce lawyer as an emotional sounding-board. You're better off getting support from your friends or if necessary from a trained relationship adviser.

Many people in the early stages of a divorce find the whole situation almost overwhelming. You may want to consider bringing a friend with you when you first visit your divorce lawyer. Try to avoid taking your children with you - even if they are grown up.

Finally, do remember that your divorce lawyer is there for you. If you are worried about something at any stage, let your lawyer know.

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