Going to see a family solicitor about a relationship breakdown can seem to some to be a very serious step. On the one hand, you may feel that you need to know ‘where I stand’, and on the other, you may worry about taking advice too early or too late in the day.
There is no right or wrong answer as to when is the right time for you to take legal advice. Every case is different. Every relationship is different. Much of this will focus on when the time feels right for you, and once you have decided to take advice, we can usually arrange for you to come in and see one of our specialist family law solicitors, within a few days.
Louise Martin, Head of Family, appreciates that a relationship breakdown can be a confusing and worrying time for some people. She has put together a brief guide on when seeing a solicitor would be a sensible thing to consider, and what the client might expect from the process.
- Do either of you consider that the relationship is salvageable?
It is often sadly the case that, when a relationship breaks down, one party has come to the decision to end things before the other may have even realised that something was gravely amiss.
A relationship breakdown is akin to a bereavement and sometimes a person’s ability to deal with matters will depend on where they are on the ‘grief cycle’ compared to the other, and whether they have or have not accepted that the relationship has broken down irretrievably.
It can therefore be a tough exercise to take legal advice when it may be relationship advice that you feel you need. The question therefore to ask yourself before you make an appointment is ‘is there any prospect of reconciliation?’ If the answer is yes, then it might be best for you to consider getting advice and support from a counsellor as the first step.
If it appears that there is no or only a limited chance of reconciliation – you may have been the one to end things, or maybe the other party has already taken legal advice, or moved out of the property, or they may even be pursuing a relationship with a third party – then taking legal advice is recommended at this stage.
You may then wish to talk to an expert family solicitor about what happens next, both in the short-term and the long-term, and gain reassurance about the path forward. At our initial consultation with you, we will provide you with advice about your particular situation and put together a plan of action to achieve a fair resolution.
Following an initial consultation, the pace of the matter is up to the parties, and we can progress the case as quickly or as slowly as is required. There is also no obligation to return for further advice and assistance, after the initial appointment.
Further details about accessing information and support can be found at http://www.resolution.org.uk/information/
- Are there children involved?
Sometimes it can be issues surrounding where the children shall live, and with which parent they should spend time, that causes anxiety and worry in the early days. Both parties may want the children to stay with them, or there may be difficulties in agreeing contact arrangements for one parent, particularly if there is a degree of parental hostility.
It is recommended that legal advice be sought as soon as possible, so that a family solicitor can advise on where the emphasis should lie, and to ensure that any safeguarding issues are addressed.
Just taking this initial advice may well reassure parents and give them the confidence to seek to resolve the issues directly with the other parent, or perhaps even seek assistance with doing so in a family mediation setting. We can refer you to family mediation if this is of interest.
At Onions & Davies, we pride ourselves on taking a conciliatory approach to children matters, and looking at the case from both a legal and pragmatic perspective, to ensure that the best and earliest resolution can be reached in the interests of the children involved.
- Are their domestic abuse issues?
It is widely recognised today, due to awareness and changes in legislation, that domestic abuse comes in many forms. It may be physical and/or sexual abuse, but it may also be a product of controlling and coercive behaviour, and manifest as emotional and/or financial abuse.
Many victims of abuse understandably find it difficult to seek help as a result of the fear and control exerted over them by their partners. It is recommended, however, that help should be sought at the first opportunity and we can ensure that the advice we provide is entirely confidential. We can provide legal advice as to the remedies available from the family court to protect against such behaviour.
We appreciate that not all of our clients have savings and cash in excess of their monthly expenditure. Indeed, it is more common to be dealing with a family of modest means, in which case, the prospect of splitting one household into two households can be daunting.
Clients may need initial advice to discuss these more immediate issues: who is going to pay the mortgage; who will be responsible for the household bills; what about the financial needs of the children; should I contact the Child Maintenance Service; etc. These matters can be addressed at an initial appointment, and clients who need help sorting through these issues, ought not to delay in taking legal advice.
- Does only one of you own the family home?
The non-owning party may feel at a disadvantage when a relationship ends, if the house is registered in the sole name of the other person and, in this situation, a family solicitor can advise as to the implications for both parties.
If you are married, then there is immediate action that we can take on your behalf to protect your Marital Home Rights, which should reassure the non-owning party that the other cannot dispose of the asset without recognising their interest.
If you are not married, then we can provide advice as to any action the non-owning party might seek to bring to recognise an interest they claim to have in the property.
- Are there court proceedings in place or on the horizon?
Do not delay in seeking legal advice if you have been served, or consider that you are about to be served, with court papers.
If these are divorce papers, then there may be a prospect of reaching agreement as to certain matters with your spouse or their solicitors before the papers are sent to court, if early advice is received. The court will also require a response from you as the “Respondent”, and we can assist with this.
If these are financial remedy papers or issues to do with the children, then there may be the prospect of negotiating out of court, or maybe at family mediation. The court will also list the matter for a hearing, if papers have been issued, which means early legal advice, and an assurance that your interests will be represented at that hearing, should be sought.
Louise Martin and David Lago are both members of Resolution: First for Family Law, which follows a code of practice that promotes a constructive approach to family issues. For further details, see http://www.resolution.org.uk/code/
Call our Family Legal Secretary, Sharon Moore, to arrange an appointment with David Lago, on 01630 652405. Our initial consultations are fixed-fee, no obligation and completely confidential.