The straightforward guide to divorce options

The straightforward guide to divorce options

You’ve decided you’re going to divorce, turning your world upside down and leading to weeks or even months of arguments and tears. You’re just starting to accept this is going to happen and you need to speak to someone but where to start?

This blog covers the basic divorce options. Firstly what a divorce is, how you get one and what it might cost.

When you or I talk about ‘getting divorced’ we use it as a general term to mean the whole thing. The separation, the telling the kids, the moving homes, the selling things and the agreeing parenting time with each other. It is likely to be a prolonged and emotional process which generally follows the steps below.

  1. One or both of you decide that your marriage is over
  2. If one person instigates the separation there is a period where the other person comes to terms with the decision before you can move on.
  3. If you have children you need to make some important decisions regarding them such as where they will live and how you will care for them. This is known as a parenting plan.
  4. You need to decide where you will live
  5. You need to decide how to split things you own such as cars and investments.
  6. A solicitor writes up the financial agreements. This document is called a consent order and is legally binding. Although this stage is optional; it is strongly advised.
  7. The marriage or Civil Partnership is legally ended, the official process involves issuing two pieces of paper – decree nisi (divorce pending) and six weeks later decree absolute (divorce finalised & both partners are free to re-marry).

Most people’s starting point for help is the internet and amid the vast quantities of information available, you will see offers starting from £59 to process your divorce. So what does this mean in the context of above?

This charge is to simply fill out the forms to submit to a court with will legally dissolve a marriage, i.e. step 6 on the list above. That alone doesn’t complete a divorce. Unless you are on certain benefits you will have to pay a court fee of £410 in addition to your £59. So your starting point is close to £500. This assumes you have discussed and agreed all the steps from 1 – 4 and have documented all agreements in your divorce petition.

In reality, it is agreeing on the parenting plan and the financial decisions (steps 3 and 4 above) that can require lots of time and energy to navigate successfully and there will need to be evidence of everything being agreed for a judge to allow you to divorce.

The rest of this blog focuses on the divorce options for steps 3 & 4 above and the financial implications of each option.

Use a Mediator 

An independent, trained professional that helps you and your partner to work out agreements for children or finances.

Pros

  • You and your partner stay in complete control of the process – the decisions and the timetable
  • Mediation is a less expensive option than using a solicitor (where many people mistakenly think they have to start)
  • You only need one mediator between you – whereas you must have  solicitor each (so it doubles the cost)
  • Saves time, government figure show mediation tales on average 4 months for couple to resolve their issues where other processes take on average 13 months
  • A mediator is trying to help you find a good solution for you and your family. If you succeed in coming up with a way forward it has the potential to improve your relationship, helping you to effectively co-parent

Cons

  • Your partner may not agree to mediation or may walk out before agreements have been made
  • A solicitor is needed to turn what you have agreed into a consent order
  • If you don’t find the right mediator or you don’t make progress in the meetings due to one party being reluctant to embrace the process then it could be wasted money
  • The cost of Mediation is approx. £500 – £1500 not including consent order and court fees

Use a Family Consultant (FC)

A Family Consultant work in a similar way to a mediator. They will engage your partner in the process, help you both prepare emotionally and facilitate your conversations to come to agreements about parenting and finances. A Family Consultant will probably have a psychological qualification rather than a mediation qualification. They are likely to focus on the emotional journey and improving your parenting relationship

Pros

  • You only need one (not one each) and the managing of emotions makes it the most amicable way of dealing with your divorce
  • FC’s usually charge from about £100- £200 per hour (similar to a mediator and a lot cheaper than a solicitor)
  • The FC will often work with local non-conflict lawyers and be able to recommend a lawyer who will work to get your agreement translated into a legal document rather than unpick it
  • FC’s will help with the parenting plan as well as the financials

Cons

  • As with mediation both partners need to be positive about the process and looking to move on
  • FC are quite few and far between so there might not be one near you

Do-it-yourself divorce

This is a cost-effective option but carries risks and requires time, effort (& emotional headspace) on your part in understanding the legal process and where to find accurate information.

Pros

  • The more you do yourself the cheaper the divorce process will be
  • If you and your partner can agree on the way forward together you are likely to be able to better parent together going forward

Cons

  • There is the potential of making a mistake or one partner taking advantage of another
  • Is only practical if you and your partner can sit around the table and reach agreements on the practical arrangements. If emotions keep getting in the way of this then it can be a big challenge
  • When children are involved DIY divorce is not recommended

With all of the options above there is the potential that you still can’t reach an agreement and therefore things escalate. If that happens then you need to turn towards more specialist help, there are two main routes at this point.

 Use a Solicitor

This is a very common option but can also be an expensive one, a solicitor can manage the entire process from step 3 onwards and will deal with your partner’s solicitor. Under English and Welsh law you need separate solicitors so this means the hourly cost is doubled.

Pros

  • If you can’t bear to be in the same room as your partner then this approach avoids this, the solicitors will deal with each other and you can minimise contact
  • It minimises (although doesn’t remove) individual effort because someone manages the whole process
  • There is the possibility of you getting a “better deal” if your solicitor does a good job. Please don’t forgot however that this is at the expense of your partner and potentially children

Cons

  • You need to find the right solicitor for you
  • It is likely to lead to more rather than less confrontation as your solicitor is aiming to get the best deal for you as an individual rather than the family as a whole, very clearly escalations can occur
  • Expectations are set at the outset which can lead to a lot of resentment if they aren’t met. It can be very expensive to be stuck in a particular “position”
  • Costs can mount up quickly, average divorce lawyers charge between £200 – £400 an hour. You should plan for a minimum of £5000 if you are using solicitors to manage the whole divorce process

Going to court

Sometimes negotiations can go nowhere or one or more of the following situations occur

  • Your partner puts family assets beyond your reach and will not disclose assets*
  • Your partner refuses to negotiate or go to mediation
  • You are in an abusive or violent relationship (and it is not safe to negotiate)
  • You aren’t making any progress in mediation or through solicitors

*People often mistakenly think a court can force their partner to disclose their assets. The court has little power other than to draw inferences from the non-disclosure. Whichever process you use you can re-open the case if you find evidence of non-disclosure at a later date.

If this happens the court will decide how to split the families assets. This is called a “financial order”.

The costs of hiring a solicitor for a court process are high. You may also need representation by a barrister if the case goes to a final hearing. A recent report estimated that the average cost of divorce through the court is £40,000 in London per person (£80,000 total) and outside London £13,000 per person.

Appointing an Arbitrator

A new approach to solving point 4, i.e. the financial matters is to consider family arbitration. You and your partner appoint an arbitrator to make a decision (under English & Welsh law) on any financial and property issues arising from the breakdown of your relationship that you have not been able to reach agreement on.

They can make decisions on single issues or entire financial cases. The arbitrator will make a decision that will be final and binding between you. This is a ‘private court’ and cheaper and quicker than going to court. Arbitrators charge by the hour rates vary widely and more qualified arbitrators charging thousands of pounds to settle cases.

 Looking forward

I hope this blog has given you some useful insights as to the options currently available. At amicable we feel that there is a role for technology to play in helping people navigate this process. A DIY option with additional support. Therefore we have developed an app to help couples successfully divide their assets and make arrangements for their children whilst saving legal fees. To find out more please contact us.

 

Kate Daly Kate Daly
About the author Kate Daly is a co-founder of amicable. Kate is a divorce expert and helps couples and separated parents navigate divorce and separation amicably. She's passionate about changing the way the world divorces and campaigns for fairer divorce laws and access to justice.

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