The way in which divorce is portrayed can give very misleading impressions as to how divorce actually works. An example is that an actual court hearing is extremely unlikely in most cases. For most people undertaking mediation as a prerequisite, in general terms, before going to court, agreements about children, money and property are likely to come about throughout this process rather than within a court setting. However, if it goes to court, the law is not biassed toward one party.
What should I think about when getting divorced?
Here are a few things to remember when considering ending a marriage. Firstly are the costs involved when reaching an agreement in court, as they can reach up to £15,000 per person, where the disagreement is around finances. If you were going to court about your children and your finances, it could cost up to £40,000 per party. It is not uncommon for the cost of court to exceed these figures. Arrangements that can be made through family mediation or other means can significantly cut divorce costs. Secondly are the issues pertaining to any children, money and property. These three distinct areas need to be organised separately, although they will often go on concurrently. Regarding the ending of the marriage or civil partnership itself, the correct forms need to be filed with the courts where a Conditional offer is ordered before continuing to the Final Order. For arrangements surrounding any children, these can start to be put into place before any proceedings through a court and agreements such as whom they will live with, contact and access etc., can all be discussed at any time.
If you are divorcing due to experiencing domestic abuse, obtaining legal advice as quickly as possible is highly recommended. This is because of the things that can be done and put in place to prevent any further abuse and protect yourself and the children involved. These can be things such as obtaining court orders to prevent your ex-partner from coming to your home or harassing you. Numerous charities can give people who have been in abusive relationships, advice and signpost them to other services.
Please click here to learn more about how our Family Mediation Service can support you through your divorce. We have over a 90% success rate in mediating separation and divorce where assets, finances and children are involved.
How do me and my ex-partner agree when we are divorcing?
To divorce as quickly and stress-free as possible, it is always the best idea to come to as many agreements as possible rather than relying upon the court to make every decision for you. Not only does this remove both parties’ autonomy when deciding what is best for your family, but it is also very time-consuming and costly. Before a court gets involved, it must be shown that you have both met with a family mediator and at least attempted to come to some arrangements regarding any children, property and finances in most circumstances. Various courses of action can be taken in order to come to agreements, including; either between yourselves, using a family mediation service or solicitors negotiating on your behalf. Family mediation is the most cost-effective and quickest way of resolving disputes.
Making agreements between yourselves can be challenging as hurt, upset and high emotions can make negotiation very difficult. Therefore, it is important to agree in advance with your ex-partner how and when will be the best time for both of you to have these discussions. For example, it may be finding mutually agreeable dates or discussions to take place in a neutral environment or via email. Generally, people do not like to feel that they have been pushed into a corner, so agreeing to even the logistics of the discussions will make it more likely that any talks will be successful. Organising the priorities first can be helpful if there are many different things on which agreements need to be made. Dealing with the issues causing the most angst and concern for each of you can make further discussions far easier.
Similarly, if discussions need to take place regarding children and finances, then it may be helpful to separate these two things and discuss them separately at different times and meetings. Naturally, both parties involved would want to sort everything out in one go and immediately, but realistically, this is unlikely to happen, and it may take more time to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible. It is also important to consider the areas in which flexibility may be required and where you feel you can be flexible on arrangements. It helps build more common ground and can make discussions more successful. Whilst engaging in these discussions, try and keep to the point as much as possible and keep in mind the arrangements that need to be made rather than focusing on the emotions attached to the separation itself. If conversing via email, do remember that offence can be taken far more easily without being privy to tone and expressions.
Another option is to use a family mediation service. This is where you and the other party meet with an accredited mediator who can help focus and facilitate discussions between you. Often people value the input of a third party who is not there to cast judgment on anyone but can aid in the communication between the two and help remove the emotional aspects of the negotiation. Most people have to pay for this service, the rate of which is variable, and most people come to the agreements they usually need in 1 and 3 sessions. It can be helpful to ring around different mediation providers to compare prices and if they can provide mediation through legal aid if you are entitled to it.
The third option is to use a solicitor to negotiate on your behalf. This is likely to be far more expensive than using a family mediation service but can be relatively quick depending upon your solicitor and the circumstances and still avoids the expense and stress of going through the court process. For some people, this can be a good way of coming to arrangements as they can feel reassured in having an expert on their side, organising the logistics of the separation and stating their case on their behalf. Again, it is a good idea to speak to several solicitors, compare prices, and check your eligibility for legal aid, if any.
How to Handle Your Feelings
Divorce and separation can be very difficult to come to terms with, even when the relationship has been a very unhappy one. It can often feel like a bereavement in some sense, and it can take longer than you expect to get over it and start rebuilding your life again. It can be hard to adjust to no longer being part of a couple and that the expectations that you once had have suddenly changed. For most people, it can take 1-2 years to start to feel better after a divorce, but there are no hard and fast rules, and everybody is different, so give yourself the time that you need to adjust. You may require additional help and support, so don’t be afraid to speak with your friends, your GP, a counsellor, and local support groups.
If upon the breakdown of the relationship, you are renting your home, it may be necessary to look at the cost of renting elsewhere as it may be that your expenses can be reduced by doing so. You could also look into whether the local housing association has any accommodation available in your area that you may be eligible for. This is not always possible as the housing lists are often long, but if you are on a low income or have children, then it may help to reduce your costs and give you additional security in the long term. The outstanding mortgage amount will need to be checked if your home is owned. Getting 3 or 4 valuations from different estate agents is important to ascertain precisely how much your home is worth. Ensuring you have a good idea about the local property market is important so you know what you can get for the money you will potentially have or whether you will need to rent a property instead. Another alternative would be to check how much you could borrow on a mortgage for yourself and whether there would be a possibility of buying the other person out.
The chances are that there will be less disposable income for both parties once you are both living apart. Ensuring the finances cover the costs of two homes, two lots of bills etc, can be difficult. Therefore, checking how much you spend and on what can be helpful as can keeping to a budget for food and social activities etc. Informing council tax can lead to a 25% reduction when living on your own, and it may be worth seeing whether you are entitled to any benefits such as tax credits etc. Organising child maintenance either independently or through the Child Maintenance Service is also important. If debts are an issue, then contacting debt advice agencies can help you with this.
Considering your assets and finances when separating/divorcing
There are no hard and fast rules regarding who gets what when a relationship breaks down, and mediation can often help the parties involved come to an arrangement between them as to what assets will be split.
If parties cannot reach an agreement and it goes to court, then the court will not look at who has put what in but what the court feels each party will need for the future. However, both parties will likely have to live on less money than they were used to when they were in the relationship, so that needs to be accepted by all involved. There are also no rewards or punishments for behaviours within the relationship. The only time this may be taken into consideration is if there has been extreme abuse (with supporting evidence) or someone is trying to be dishonest and hide what assets they have.
Deciding whether you want to divorce immediately or just separate is important. If you decide upon just separating in the interim and waiting to see what happens, arrangements about money, the home and children can still be organised, and a separation agreement can be drawn up. Legal advice should be sought in these arrangements; however, once you have signed them, they can implicate any settlements or arrangements if you decide to divorce later. The separation starts when you choose to no longer live together as a couple. You can be separated and still share a home, but it means that you no longer share a bed, cook or go shopping for each other, etc.
If you decide upon separation and want to divorce, as of 6th April 2022, you can apply for a no-fault divorce. For more information about no-fault divorce, please read our resource – What is the no-fault divorce process?
Decisions will also need to be made regarding any property. Will a property that both parties shared need to be sold or both parties move out, or will one of the parties remain in the property? Whose name is the property in? If it is either rented or owned, the person whose name the house is in could have legal implications, and action may be required to secure a person’s right to stay in the property. When the property is jointly owned if the property will be sold, how will the proceeds of the sale be divided between the parties? Will everything be organised at once, or will it be done in stages? It works better for some people to work things in stages as it’s a better fit with the family’s needs, e.g. if children are in a local school and settled, etc.
Agreements regarding money will also need to be decided upon. A complete list of all assets, including cars, pensions, savings etc., as well as all debts should be made, and help regarding how these things will be split may be needed. It is important to consider how any joint assets will be divided and the contents of the family home. What will happen to assets such as cars? How will any debts be organised? Is one party going to pay maintenance to the other person?
What do I need to consider regarding child arrangements during separation/divorce?
One of the things where decisions will have to be made is arrangements regarding children. Both parties must agree on where the children will live, when and how both parents will spend time with any children and how things that any children need will be paid for.
What happens when we cannot agree on all issues regarding assets and children?
When arrangements regarding property and/or finances or arrangements for any children cannot be agreed upon, then it may be that the courts will need to become involved and make the decisions in these instances. The court will usually require that you have met with a mediator and have at least considered mediation as an option in the first instance in most cases. If you need to go to court, you may require a solicitor to help you through this process, or you can act on your behalf. However, solicitors can prove very costly. Often, the legal fees can become more than the amount being disputed, and the judge will still encourage both parties to agree on their own terms anyway. Costs can be kept lower if a solicitor is required by shopping around and comparing prices, ensuring that you are organised and preparing for conversations with them not to waste time, avoiding sending them letters and telephoning them unnecessarily and agreeing on the tasks that you can do yourself rather than relying upon the solicitor to do everything for you. If you choose to represent yourself, it prevents many of the legal expenses, but it is quite a complicated procedure and can be even more complex if your ex-partner has legal representation and you do not.
How do I help my children through a divorce?
It can also take a long time for children to adjust to the change. Explaining to them that it is not their fault, reminding them how much both parents still love them and not arguing or putting the other parent down in front of them can all help with this process. Try and keep any routines that the children have as near normal as possible and ensure that other people involved in your children’s lives are aware of what is happening so that they too can keep a close eye on them and provide additional support where it is required.
Next steps after an agreement is reached
Once agreements have been made, it is helpful to write down what has been agreed upon. If the process has involved either a solicitor or a family mediator, then these agreements will be noted in a Memorandum of Understanding/Parenting Plan.
In child arrangement cases, it is important to have a level of flexibility in the arrangements regarding the children as their needs and requirements change, particularly as they get older and they start to make their arrangements outside of their parents. Usually, nothing more formal is required as Parenting Plans are legally binding when created by Access Mediation Services. If arrangements are not working, then changes can be negotiated. However, if the agreement is not being kept, you may wish to apply to the court for a consent order.
Where arrangements have been made regarding finances and/or property, it is generally a good idea to see a solicitor separately once agreements have been finalised for them to check the agreement and ensure that neither of you can make a future claim. This can be done by making the arrangements that you have both come to into a legally binding court order.
If you want more information about family mediation, please visit our resources area. If you want to speak to a mediator, please call us on 01905 330055.