Partner Claire Dyer, in our leading Family Law team, explains how you can manage your legal fees when reaching financial settlement on divorce.
Sorting out the financial settlement on divorce is the most costly part of the process. It is important to do this properly as the settlement will usually be final and needs to be ‘right’. Although an equal division of capital may be appropriate in some cases, there are several where it is not. Pensions should not be overlooked and there may need to be additional financial support in the form of maintenance, at least for a period.
Although some cost is inevitable, there are ways in which you can help to manage your legal fees:
At the start, a lot of the work relates to providing comprehensive and clear information about your financial circumstances – called financial disclosure. In many case, you will use a 20 page form (called a Form E) to collate the information and this means providing details of properties, other assets, pensions, liabilities, company interests, etc. Lots of documents have to be annexed to the form to evidence the position.
Your solicitor should give you a clear list of what you need to collate. If you work hard to provide a bundle of documents which is organised into sections and put in chronological order, you will save your solicitor having to do this for you. It is generally better to try and provide everything in one go, rather than on a piecemeal basis. The Form E is available to view on the internet and it is worth looking at it early on so that you know what you will have to provide and can start putting the documents together.
It may be tempting to think that you will get a better deal if your spouse struggles to work out what your true financial position is. This is a fallacy. If your financial disclosure is incomplete or unclear, your spouse will raise a raft of additional enquiries, asking for more information and documents. This will only serve to increase your costs. It is far better to be open and transparent and provide as many documents and as much explanation as may be required to enable your spouse and his/her solicitor to understand everything. A reluctance/slowness to provide what is requested will only raise suspicions and make settlement much harder.
Make sure you have the right emotional support
Family solicitors understand that this is a very stressful, upsetting and worrying time and they are good listeners. However, you should avoid using your solicitor as a counsellor, which will increase your costs. Try to have one or more trusted friends to support you alongside the process – people you can offload on and confide in. You might find it helpful if one of them joins you in meetings with your solicitor, so that they can take notes and be a sounding board afterwards.
Consider seeking professional counselling if that would be helpful. You will make better decisions if your emotional health is being looked after.
There is a cost attached to chasing if you are slow in providing information and/or responding to proposals. If you fail to meet court imposed deadlines, there can be applications to require compliance which also adds a layer of costs.
It is important not to keep arguing just on a point of principle. You need to weigh up the cost of continuing to fight against the likely benefit and also factor in the risk that the outcome is never certain. If you spend another £10,000 to get £8,000 more, is that a success? If it will cost you another £10,000 just to get £10,000 clearly that does not make commercial sense. If you risk getting £10,000 less in the final outcome as well as spending the extra money, that is probably a gamble too far.
Focus your arguments
It is tempting to think that if you run 50 possible arguments, one or more of them is bound to find favour with the Judge and improve your final outcome. In fact, the risk is that your two or three good arguments get lost in a sea of irrelevancies and/or that you irritate the Judge. Ask your solicitor to identify your best and strongest points and focus on those.
You don’t need a solicitor to tell you what you would like to achieve, but you do need a solicitor to tell you whether that is a realistic objective. In each case there is a range of likely outcomes and you are unlikely to persuade a Judge to move outside that range. Just because you shout louder, fight harder, or argue for longer does not mean that the Judge will capitulate. S/he has to make an Order which they consider to be objectively fair, but that might not be the one that you think is fair. Your solicitor can advise you on what is the likely outcome based on experience. If you really don’t like the advice, consider taking a second opinion – either from a barrister or another solicitor. If two or more lawyers give you the same advice it is almost certainly right.
For further information or legal advice, please contact email@example.com or call 0118 951 6800.
This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.