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Myths of Family Law - "You will save money by doing it yourself"

View profile for Katherine Semlyen
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Finances are usually already under strain at the point that a relationship is breaking down. Indeed, financial difficulties can often be a trigger for relationship problems and sometimes clients that come to me have taken the difficult decision to separate because, for example, their partner has hidden a debt from them that has now come to light. Equally, one partner may have a problem with overspending and this can cause arguments, or there has been a change in financial circumstances due to redundancy or unemployment.

Therefore it can be tempting to believe that you should navigate the separation process yourself to avoid legal costs.

There is no doubt that many people, particularly since the cutting back of legal aid in recent years, are now acting for themselves at Court, known as “litigants in person”, and the Courts are required to accommodate them. However, the Court can’t provide them with legal advice and many who choose this path may regret it later. Family law can be complex and even the divorce process itself can lead to difficulties if it is done incorrectly.

Many clients have come to me half way through a divorce that they started themselves where they have got stuck, and are frustrated because they don’t know how to untangle the process. This is even more difficult now that the Courts have centralised the divorce process so everything has to go to a central Court and it can take several months to even find out that you have submitted the wrong form, as the central Courts constantly seem to be dealing with backlogs.

Where financial  matters and children are concerned, the problems can go beyond that of delay. In some cases there are no assets, but even then you need to be aware that unless matters are dealt with properly  at the time of separation then claims can arise in future, perhaps when you have improved your own financial position,  or even met someone new.

Where children are concerned, the law is perhaps less technical than that of finances, but the emotional involvement can cloud your judgement and there is a lot of confusion about children matters and how the law is applied.

Mediation is a useful tool in financial and children matters, however mediators cannot provide legal advice and will recommend that you seek your own advice alongside the process. Equally, certain agreements that can be signed to safeguard your position may be invalid without legal advice being given to both parties, and therefore skimping on advice could store up problems for later.

A good Solicitor will give you clear advice at the outset, and then if funds are tight will be able to minimise your costs by offering a fixed fee option, or getting you to do certain tasks yourself. There are also ways of keeping costs down at a Court hearing for example by choosing a more junior barrister to represent you.

Watch out for the next instalment coming soon!  

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