If you have finally decided that you can’t work it out and you are getting divorced then you
may find the following useful. Hopefully, not only will it be useful, it will also save you some money your divorce. Hopefully it will also remove a little bit of the mystery surrounding some of the phrases such as “ancillary relief”.
The following is not meant to be the definitive guide to divorce. There are plenty of books been written on the subject (many of them read by lawyers at a very expensive hourly rate!) and a visit to the local bookshop or internet will come up with volumes and volumes.
Divorce can be broken down into its component parts:
2. Ancillary matter
“Ancillary matters” simply refers to money and children.
“Ancillary relief” is not something you take for an ancillary headache but legalise for maintenance.
Taking each in turn.
Dissolution. The divorce itself.
The most common reasons for divorce are:
Living apart for two years (by consent) or five years (with no consent)
Adultery (fairly obvious)
I am not going to get into getting the marriage annulled here (usually for illegality, none consummation, none consent or some other reason) because that is a story for another day.
Remember this isn’t a definitive guide this is merely pointers. If you’re “soon to be” ex has committed adultery with (she) every member of the eighth army or (he) all 47 Dagenham Girl Pipers, they have admitted adultery. Don’t waste time and money gathering evidence. One count is enough. Also, don’t worry about who it was with because you can put person, time and date unknown. I will also mention at this stage that adultery is probably the simplest, easiest and least unpleasant (surprising that they may seem) way of getting divorced because the petition goes into a few lines and doesn’t have a whole page of unreasonable behaviour where one party is slagging off the other. It is also worth noting that if you are getting divorced on the grounds of adultery you don’t need to gather ten pages of information on how unreasonable they have been. All doing that achieves is increasing your legal bill and really wicks off your ex. Don’t do it.
You need about four grounds for unreasonable behaviour. The juicier the better and perhaps come up with a “brief” (and I emphasize on “brief”) list of unreasonable behaviour and let your solicitor decide which one to use. I say make it a brief list because if it is a long list your solicitor is going to charge you £175 per hour to read it! (More on solicitors costs later). As with adultery, it doesn’t matter how many counts of unreasonable behaviour you have, try and get away with as few as possible (it will reduce your legal bill!).
If you and your spouse have lived apart for two years and both want a divorce, hey presto, the jobs done. You have all you need.
If your spouse doesn’t consent to a divorce and you have lived apart for five years then you are entitled to a divorce. There is also a slightly different ground “desertion”. This really amounts to the same thing as living apart for five years and to all intents and purposes is the same. From what I gather the main difference between living apart for five years and desertion after five years is that living apart after five years you know where your spouse is and with desertion you don’t. The practicalities in both cases are exactly the same because you will have to swear an affidavit to say what you have done to get your partner to either sign documents or to find your partner.
So there you have it. Everything you need to know about dissolving your marriage in one easy lesson.
The next paragraph will help remove some of the stress (I hope) and keep the bill down.
The majority of legal costs are incurred by clients. Yes, that might surprise you but clients incur their own legal costs. Why? Simply because they write to their solicitor, they ring their solicitor, they get letters from their solicitor in response to things they have asked. All that costs money. First thing I will say therefore is “speak” when you’re spoken to. Don’t write or telephone unnecessarily. I know it’s difficult when you feel your solicitor is not corresponding with you but I will tell you how to deal with that later. Let me just tell you at this point that the majority of times that a solicitor doesn’t correspond with the client is because they have got nothing to correspond about. An obstructive spouse can soon slow the process down to a snails pace. Remember that if your solicitors doesn’t get you divorced then your solicitor doesn’t get paid. The solicitor therefore wants your divorce to move as quickly as it can. Please bear that in mind.
Try to avoid telephones. Telephone calls can run away with time and £175 per hour that soon happens. Commit everything to writing and keep the writing brief and to the point. Do the following when writing to your solicitor:
Make sure that the letter is really well spaced. It is much quicker to read a well spaced paragraph than a huge paragraph containing loads of points. I always do this when I go to court. I make sure that each document has only one sentence per paragraph! Don’t worry about the grammatical layout of the letter, you’re not in an English lesson in school. You are simply making it easy to read. So, one sentence per paragraph and even better if you number each paragraph. That way, when you happen to be speaking to your solicitor you can say paragraph x of my letter of the y date.
Don’t argue over trivial things. If you spend two hours arguing, solicitor to solicitor over a CD collection that solicitors argument (two hours each side times £175 per hour) will cost you, between you, £750. You can buy quite a few CD’s for £75. Don’t get dragged into arguments over trivia.
Agree solicitor’s costs with outset. A solicitor has to give you their standard terms of business which will include details of the hourly rate, complaints procedure and everything else you need to know. Unfortunately, it usually runs into about 18 pages of small print. It is all relevant. Read it end to end and digest. The most important parts are:
a) the hourly charging rate
b) what the exact job they are doing for you is
c) the complaints procedure
Agree at outset not the hourly rate but get an estimate of costs for doing the whole job. As for this to have disbursements listed as a completely separate thing. Disbursements are other costs, not solicitor’s costs, but things such as court fee’s etc. There is nothing worse than being told that something will cost you £1000 only to find out that on top of that there is a £600 court fee. Ask, and get it in writing.
Make sure that you set a limit (and get the solicitor to confirm it in writing) of costs which will not be exceeded without your authority.
I can not emphasise the importance of agreeing costs and costs limits at outset. If your solicitor for some reason doesn’t confirm what is agreed between you, you write it down and send it to your solicitor as conformation of what you have agreed. Make sure that you keep a copy of all correspondence and do make sure that all correspondence is dated. You wouldn’t believe how many people send letters in with no date.
Partly under the heading of what could be correspondence but also most relevant costs I must mention email. Email is great. The same rules with regards to writing letters apply but two of the advantages of email has are time (all you have got to do is press a button and it arrives at the other end) and convenience. Those two advantages are its downfall. It’s so easy to simply fire an email off to your solicitor. Remember that an email is treated like a letter and you will be charged £15 for receiving it. You also get charged £15 replying to it so, think carefully.
Let me tell you know that your divorce is not going to cost you hundreds of pounds. It is going to cost you thousands of pounds. A do it yourself divorce with no arguments over money or children can be done for you for a few hundred pounds. If you get appendicitis, you can probably take your own appendix out but we wouldn’t suggest it. My suggestion is to set up a standing order to pay your solicitor (say) £200 per month because then, after twelve months you have paid £2500 (which will be plus VAT) without it hurting quite so much.
You can get divorced in six weeks. It is likely to take six months or at least longer. You can often, delays are caused by the spouse’s solicitor trying to extract information from his client. It’s like pulling teeth. Sometimes a simple exchange of correspondence can take 6 weeks. So, the majority of delays (this will surprise you) are usually caused by a spouse. Once again, agree a time scale with your solicitor for dealing with correspondence.