Separating from your partner will inevitably mean going through some changes in your life which will often become more complicated when children are involved. Where will you both live? Who will the children live with? What about money? The list can feel endless – where do you start – and what does it mean to instruct a solicitor?
Do you need a solicitor?
A good first step is to consider whether you can discuss things with your ex. Being clear about what you each want and are expecting the other to do will go a long way to making moving on easier. If you feel you need a little support at this stage, then consider mediation. You and your ex would still be in charge of the negotiations, but with the added help of a neutral third party who would facilitate these negotiations.
It is highly recommended that you take steps to understand your specific legal position before entering into discussions. This will help you to be clear on your issues regarding children (if you have them), finances and other matters. It will also help with reaching an agreement you and your ex are both happy with. Speaking to a solicitor and obtaining legal advice when you first start considering a separation can often provide reassurance which in turn may help to smooth out the stress of the situation. It’s never too early to seek legal advice. And, of course, if discussions or mediation are simply not a possibility then a solicitor will help with the court process should you need it.
The first meeting with your solicitor is important – you should leave their office with enough options and information to allow you to make decisions. The more prepared you are for the first meeting the more you will get out of it. It is therefore not a bad idea to turn up with the following:
- An idea of what is it you want out of the situation – financial settlement, care of the children, etc. If your solicitor has an idea of what you are considering they can advise on that or propose other options for you.
- A short summary of your situation to include some details about you and your family with dates. This will provide your solicitor with a quick overview of the situation and allow more time in the meeting to discuss your legal position and options.
- Any previous letters/emails/ texts exchanged with your ex/ their solicitors or any documents you might want your solicitor to look over (such as an offer or an application made to the court). Although your solicitor may not have sufficient time or the information necessary during that meeting to fully advise you on these documents, they can consider everything in outline and give you an idea of what to look out for or what now needs to be done.
- A list of questions you want to ask – it’ll help to keep the meeting focused on what you want to know and will help the solicitor tailor their advice to you. Of course, your solicitor will probably think of a few extra things to discuss that are not on your list!
- A friend/family member to accompany you. This is a stressful time and you will have a lot to think about – someone taking notes of the discussion for you to consider later on may remove the pressure of remembering everything your solicitor says. Some solicitors do provide a written note of the meeting so you may want to ask that when you book the meeting.
- ID – both photographic and proof of your address
Going through a separation is a stressful situation where emotions can run high. Listen to what your solicitor is saying – they will let you know if you’re being unrealistic and propose other options they think will benefit you. Use this meeting to identify the important issues that need to be addressed first. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand or if you’re worried – there are no silly questions.
To instruct or not to instruct
Once you’ve had that first meeting you should be in a position to decide whether you want to ‘instruct’ (or hire) your solicitor to act for you. This may not always be the case – perhaps you only wanted to understand your legal position before discussing things with your ex, or you’ve decided to represent yourself and just wanted to know where you stand.
If you want to hire a solicitor to act for you pick one you trust and feel comfortable with – personalities play an important part in choosing a solicitor and don’t be afraid to specify if you would rather instruct a male or female solicitor. If the first solicitor you meet does not suit you, you should look for another one. Shop around!
We have more information about appointing / instructing solicitors and other professionals in this section of the Hub.
Melanie Battaillard-Samuel contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101‘, 3rd editions, (Bath Publishing, 2023).