Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a good divorce. If you and your partner want to separate well, consider using the same solicitor, sometimes called a Solicitor Neutral. But what is a solicitor neutral?
I will meet with you both separately, to assess whether using the same solicitor is a suitable option for you. If I’m satisfied it is, I’ll then ask you to make a commitment to each other, using a Participation Agreement, which makes clear that you’ll each come to the table with your cards facing up, provide full financial disclosure, and remain respectful of each other’s views.
During our first joint meeting, I’ll tell you both about the process, the law, the costs and the likely timescales. You’ll be able to ask me questions, share what you’re most worried about and what’s most important to you. We’ll agree some core aims; you’ll want each other to be housed adequately, to be able to have control over a budget that enables you to move forward without financial anxiety and to make the most of your assets. I’ll then give you a list of documents to gather, and we’ll set a date for our second joint meeting.
Before the second meeting, I’ll prepare a schedule of income, assets and liabilities, to give you both clarity. During our second meeting, we’ll work through the schedule together, highlighting any issues as we do, such as the need for formal valuations.
Once the financial picture is complete, we’ll have another meeting to discuss the parameters for settlement. I’ll set out for you what types of decisions a Judge might make, and we’ll discuss a range of settlement options, including the net effect of those options. Providing illustrations of what the outcome could look like will give you a chance to think “Would I be happy with that?”, “Can I live with that much money?” and “Does that feel fair?”
My function will be to assist you in:
- Understanding the extent of the matrimonial assets, through sharing information.
- Understanding the parameters within which a Judge might make a Financial Order, in the event you can’t agree matters.
- Discussions with one another, that lead to a final agreement being reached.
- Having that agreement formalised by way of a Court Order being made by mutual consent.
What I don’t do
I screen every case to see if there has been abuse of any sort, hence an initial separate assessment meeting, to allow you to speak freely. Cases involving allegations of domestic abuse won’t be suitable.
A solicitor has a duty to act in the best interests of their client(s). I can’t act for both parties where there is the possibility of one party being placed under duress or where there might be an imbalance of power.
Another duty solicitors have is to maintain confidentiality, but in this process, you’ll both need to agree that all communication exchanged is open and transparent, meaning you’ll both be copied in on all emails and all calls. I can’t keep your secrets from each other.
I’ll record in clear terms how much airtime each person has had during joint meetings, to ensure fairness. I will not take sides.
What qualifications, memberships and experience to look for
Only a handful of lawyers in the country, at this stage, offer couples the option of using the same solicitor.
Resolution has launched training to help lawyers who want to offer this service the chance to train. They call the method of resolving disputes Resolution Together. The first training took place in December 2022, with more lawyers signed up to train.
The process may be very different to being a table-thumping solicitor in a Courtroom, but it isn’t for the faint-hearted. You’ll need an experienced solicitor who knows the law, has the confidence to express their views on the likely outcomes, and one who can control the discussions that will take place, in a fair and balanced way. Trained mediators and Collaborative practitioners undergo extensive training around working with multiple interested parties. They’ll already have a solid grounding from which to propel the same solicitor model.
Top tips for getting the most out of my profession
Ask for a fixed price. There are few cases that can’t be properly costed at the outset. Fixed pricing is not the same as low pricing. Your solicitor is an expert and, like anything in life, you get what you pay for. Certainty on costs means you’ll have one less thing to worry about. You’ll know exactly what to budget for. It will also keep your solicitor focussed.
Set your objectives at an early stage. Think about what you want and tell your lawyer. It’s far easier to hit a target once you know where to point your arrow.
Ask about alternatives to Court. I appreciate the idea of using the same solicitor is new. From years of experience operating in the Family Court, the outcomes I’ve seen for the couples opting to do things differently are faster, more pleasant, and cost a lot less.
Additional reading. This article, written by another solicitor neutral may be of interest and there is some general guidance on appointing professional support with links to a number of good articles and advice on the subject.