In our first blog this month, we looked briefly at some of the issues which have to be addressed when parties become involved in divorce proceedings. The purpose of this article is to consider the question of the costs of such proceedings.
The first point to be made is that, as a result of Government budgetary cuts made over the last few years, in this as well as in many other areas, legal aid is now rarely available for any part of the divorce process. There are just a few exceptions to this rule. This article proceeds on the basis that legal aid is not available.
We appreciate that for the vast majority of people, the costs involved in divorce proceedings will be a major concern. We do not want our clients to be embarrassed about enquiring about costs and we will always address the issue in a straightforward manner.
It needs to be said that we do everything we can to keep costs to the minimum required to achieve the required outcome. We also always advise that the cost of proceedings be kept to a proportionate level according to the issues involved.
Before each stage of the divorce process (and see our previous article this month on the various stages of that process), we will give you an estimate of the likely costs involved. We will also tell you which of our family advisors will be working on your case and let you know if that changes. Details will be provided of the hourly charge made by each advisor.
It is sometimes very difficult for a solicitor to know how many hours will have to be spent on the case. For example, in relation to the resolution of financial matters, at the outset, it will not be known what response will be received by the other party. Will he / she provide all the details required to enable there to be a fair assessment of your claim or will there have to be applications to the court? There may also be, for example, a genuine disagreement as to the extent to which money owned by one party before the marriage should be treated differently from that generated during the marriage or left to a party under a will. There are several other areas of potential disagreement.
There are, however, some steps that we recommend clients take in order to help keep costs to a manageable level. These are just some of them:-
Listen to advice
Our legal family advisors are experts. Your case is unique to you but it will not be to them. The likelihood is that they will have come across your situation or something like it before in their professional career. They also have an understanding of the preferred way to approach problems, those ways which are more likely to succeed and those which are usually doomed to failure. Ask questions, certainly: seek explanations where required, but be slow to ignore advice.
Much of the work which family solicitors have to undertake is detailed and involves taking information from their clients. You can shorten the time required to achieve the necessary objective by dealing with much of the background, which you know and which the solicitor needs from you. Accordingly, for example, if there is to be a divorce petition on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, write down what it is about your spouse’s conduct which falls into that category. A long essay on the history of the marriage is not required: just four or five bullet points.
In another situation, when discussing financial arrangements, compile in advance a schedule of your own financial position and what you know about that of your spouse. This will save much time. Further information may well be required but you will have done the donkey work and time and money will have been saved.
Respond promptly to requests for information
When dealing with finances in particular, much will depend on the detailed information which has to be exchanged. Your family solicitor may well receive a list of questions from the other side seeking information from you. It is usually tedious work and invariably detailed but it is necessary to respond accurately and promptly. Help yourself by providing the information fully and quickly. Remember that there is a legal duty on both parties to be frank and truthful in revealing their position.
Do I really want to fight for the “principle”?
Nearly every family solicitor will advise clients that to become involved in a battle over matters of principle is likely to be expensive and unproductive, particularly if that principle is not at the heart of what is important in your case. If the issue is of real practical significance, all well and good and only you can decide how far you wish to take a particular issue. If however you find yourself uttering the words “it’s a matter of principle”, remember that whilst you may well be right about that, you may also find that it is an expensive battle with very little coming to you in the way of practical consequences.
Solicitors cannot change the law
Sometimes solicitors have to advise clients that what they seek is beyond what they can achieve if the case goes to court. You may not like the advice you receive; you may disagree with the law, but that is not the fault of your solicitor. Indeed, clients would be very disappointed (and have every right to be disappointed) if they found that their solicitor had not given them correct legal advice and that they had only discovered the reality when they lost the case in court. Do be realistic about what is legally possible.