So, if you are separating and possibly considering divorce, how do you choose the right professional support for you? First, you need to decide what type of support you need – but how do you do that when there are so many different options?
Here we try to summarise all the usual options and then we have set out some useful questions you can ask your chosen professional to help you make the right decision for you.
Ideally, you are looking for professionals who are going to support you to find amicable solutions so that you can avoid the stress, costs, and delay of court proceedings. Lawyers and Barristers are trained to be able to take cases to court but what you would be best advised to consider, if you need a lawyer or barrister, is one who is also a good negotiator that has a proven track record of success at keeping appropriate cases out of court. Sometimes cases do have to go to court, but most do not.
What are the different types of professional support?
This is a generic term often now used to describe professionals who give legal advice. This can include solicitors, legal executives, and paralegals. Lawyers normally act for just one of you and your ex-partner has their own lawyer but some lawyers can now advise a separating couple together.
Some lawyers are also trained in a process called collaborative law where the lawyers for both parties will meet with their clients, together, in the same room, to discuss how to resolve a situation.
A good family lawyer will do everything they can to keep your case out of court and help you try and reach an agreement. They will give you advice but then follow your instructions about how you would like to resolve the issues that need to be addressed. This will involve them collating all the information and disclosure needed, advising you on practical solutions and what might happen in court. They will negotiate on your behalf by letters/emails or roundtable meetings. Lawyers can also draft the final documents that need to be prepared to achieve a binding and enforceable agreement.
A barrister is someone who represents you in court and is an expert in the law. Barristers are normally instructed through lawyers to represent their clients at court hearings. Barristers can also be asked to provide written advice on the likely outcome of a case or about a specific legal issue which can help with negotiating a final agreement.
Some barristers will accept instructions directly from you. This is called direct access and can be used if you are representing yourself and would like to have a barrister to present your case to the Judge in court. You can also ask them to provide written advice about what a fair outcome in your case is likely to be.
A separating couple can appoint a family arbitrator to determine a solution outside of court. You must agree with your ex-partner who the arbitrator will be. Arbitrators tend to be retired judges, senior barristers, or experienced lawyers. The arbitrator’s job is to make a decision that will be final and binding about any financial and property disputes and they can also help with some child-related issues arising from family breakdown. Using an arbitrator is like going straight to a Judge you have hand-picked, in a timeframe you all agree on.
The job of a mediator is to meet with couples to help them resolve disputes so that they do not have to go to court. This can be done face-to-face, online, with or without lawyers and some mediators are also qualified to meet with children to give them a voice in the process.
Whether meeting face-to-face or online you can be in the same room as your ex-partner or in separate rooms, separate virtual rooms if meeting online. Once proposals for reaching an agreement have been prepared a couple can get advice from their lawyer, if they want to, before a lawyer is then asked to draw up the formal court order that can be filed with the court for approval by a Judge. Mediation is a very flexible process, if you need advice between mediation meetings, then your lawyer can speak with you.
During your separation, you may experience, amongst other emotions, grief, anger, or depression. It is important to recognise the emotional side of separation and divorce and the impact it can have on you at a time when you are having to make important decisions. There are many different professionals who can support you including therapists, counsellors, coaches and specialist parenting experts who also run programs to help parents create a positive co-parenting relationship moving forward.
- Other Experts
Other experts like accountants, financial advisers and pension experts can help explain other issues that you will need to understand as part of your decision-making process where financial issues are involved. They can be asked to advise one of you or they can prepare a joint expert opinion or report if you and your ex-partner agree that you both need their advice.
The professionals that you choose will have an impact on the cost, timescale and way in which the legal issues you are dealing with are resolved. Often, it is helpful to think of some key questions when deciding which professional to appoint. Here are some key questions we would recommend you consider asking;
- Check that they have specialist expertise in the area you need their support with.
- Do they have any testimonials from people who have used their services and were they in a similar position to you?
- Do they offer a free initial call or meeting so that you can talk to them to decide if they are someone you would like to work with?
- If looking for a lawyer, ask them what their approach is, how do they negotiate and what percentage of their cases do they settle without having to go to court. How do they interact with other professionals and do they consider all of the dispute resolution options such as mediation and arbitration if that would be appropriate in your situation.
- How busy are they, are they going to have availability to deal with your situation?
- What hours do they work and what is their policy on how quickly they return calls and answer emails?
- Do they work virtually or live in the area local to you? Will you have to travel to see them?
- How do they charge, what do they charge and will you have to pay for anything upfront?
- How long do they think it will take to resolve things for you?
- Ask yourself, do you trust this person, do they make you feel comfortable and can you work with them? How able would you feel to ask them questions?
We hope this information will be helpful in finding a professional to assist you through the family issues that you need to resolve.
Postscript. Additional reading material is contained in a number of books explaining the law to people going through a divorce or separation. There is a range in our specialist shop. We have links to a number of organisations and charities who offer additional advice and support on these pages. If you are considering looking for alternatives to going to family court, these pages have some useful material to read through.
Claire Colbert & Rachael Oakes contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101’, 3rd edition (Bath Publishing 2023).