Judith Fitton discusses how to approach the difficult issues of divorce and separation in an article written for Essence Magazines December/January issue.
How to be a good divorce client
Divorce and separation are a fact of life and about 40% of children have parents who do not live together. Yes, it can be very sad, but being brave enough to face a positive change in your living arrangements and finances can enable both of you to move on and hopefully be much happier in the future.
To ensure that you manage your divorce well, it would help to be aware of some common pitfalls.
Be civil to your ex, especially in front of your children. You may need to accept that there are always two sides to every story, and it is likely to be better for your children if they can see mum and dad continuing to talk and agreeing arrangements. The children need both of you in a fit state emotionally and financially to continue to look after them and co-parent effectively in the future.
Try not to use your divorce lawyer as a therapist. We are here to help, support and advise you and we need to know how you are feeling, but costs can increase very quickly if you want to chat things over with us on a daily basis.
Do your homework. There are a lot of forms to be completed for a financial case and many documents to be collected. The more administrative work you can do yourself, the more you can keep your divorce costs down.
Be realistic about your financial claims and what money is likely to be available to meet your needs, your ex’s needs and the needs of the children. We will encourage you to make commercial decisions with your head, not your heart. It is very rare that the Court will take into account who said what and who did what during a marriage breakdown; financial claims are about just one thing – money.
How to be a good divorce lawyer
The former chair of Resolution, Jo Edwards, has recently described the media perception of divorce as being a War of the Roses–style gladiatorial battle. The stereotypical divorce lawyer, especially when presented by the red top newspapers, is a fee chasing Rottweiler, ready to fire off applications to Court at the drop of a hat.
A divorce lawyer does need to be able to fight your corner in Court and to stand firm by your side when necessary, but it is not necessary and is counterproductive to be aggressive throughout. We need to be knowledgeable, skilled, and empathetic – all that goes without saying, but a really good divorce lawyer also needs to have several other qualities in order to maximise your chances of reaching a negotiated settlement at an early stage in proceedings.
We need to respect our clients. You may be our bread and butter but first and foremost you are people. The approach we take and the advice we give you could help to shape the rest of your lives and your children’s lives, both financially and personally. A divorce can be one of the most difficult times of your life and it is essential to know when our clients need help, not just from us, but also from other professionals such as counsellors or family therapists. Taking a holistic approach means that we will know when to refer you on and at Mundays we have built up long standing relationships with such other professionals.
We need to understand that this is your case and your life. We need to find out what are your aims and priorities and you should not be pushed into any course of action that you do not feel is right for you. If we are walking into Court by your side, you need us to be able to project a confident persona, but this should not be about showcasing ourselves, it is about doing a good job for you.
We need to be creative in listening to you and carving out a financial solution that is right for you and your family. It is absolutely vital to be proactive and to actively promote our client’s wishes and timetable for the separation. Problem solving and finding a constructive solution tailored to each family is one of my favourite aspects of this job.
We need to be tactically astute, to work with you in deciding on a strategy and to be able to adapt that as your case develops. Many divorce cases need involvement from specialist valuers or forensic accountants or specialist family barristers, if there are any court hearings. We need to know the right people to go to and to ensure they are involved at an early stage. Too late, and evidential mistakes may have been made already.
We need to be able to recognise the right time for you to attempt a settlement outside of Court proceedings and to know which method of alternative dispute resolution might be right for you, whether that be face to face meetings with your ex and their lawyer, mediation, collaborative law or arbitration.
And possibly most important of all – we need to speak and write in plain English!