The Best Divorce Lawyer for you
Choosing the Best Divorce Lawyer for you is extremely important. Divorce and separation often involves substantial life changes, both for you and your children. It is a time of inevitable worry about the future. It is an often emotional time, where there is anxiety, fear, anger, depression.
The best divorce lawyer for you should help steer you through this minefield with a clear head and help you to focus upon what matters, and avoid being drawn in to disputes which are ultimately unimportant.
Divorce and separation is a stressful time. It is stressful not only for the couple who are separating and divorcing but it is also a stressful time for their children (both minor and adult children). Minor children will very often be powerless as events unfold and can be caught between warring parents.
The best divorce lawyer for you will endeavour to keep the process as short as possible and child focused – the best outcomes are inevitably ones where the needs of children are well met and where solutions are found and certainty achieved as quickly as reasonably possible.
Everyone’s situation and family dynamics are different. Everybody is different, so the best divorce lawyer for a friend might not be the best divorce lawyer for you. A solicitor used to dealing with international trust issues or celebrity divorces, might not be the best divorce solicitor for someone with more modest and less exciting circumstances.
Choosing the best divorce lawyer for you
We don’t think anyone can really sensibly claim to be the Best Divorce Lawyer. There are lots of excellent divorce lawyers. Who you need is the Best Divorce Lawyer for you.
Here are our thoughts to help you to choose the Best Divorce Lawyer for you:
What type of divorce do you want?
The answer to this question is normally one that is fair, quick, inexpensive, child focused, where a clean break is achieved as quickly as is reasonable. (Not necessarily immediately – housing needs and income needs should be met fairly).
The answer to this question is rarely one that is unfair, slow, expensive, bitter, blameful, where the needs of children are forgotten, where there are ongoing disputes stretching endlessly ahead.
Emotions and working together
There are two parties to a divorce, and so the more that a couple are able to cooperate, the greater the process options that are available. However, the separation will have occurred because a couple have not been getting on with each other. There are often unhelpful and unresolved emotions in play which can be a barrier to good decision-making.
Your best divorce lawyer is not a councillor. They should be a clearheaded and sensible divorce lawyer. They should be able to discuss with you whether it will be helpful for you to seek separate assistance with the emotional side of the divorce. There are always a number of options that might be available (some free, and some at varying cost). Options for emotional support might include seeking assistance through your GP (counselling, CBT, sometimes medication), private counselling or psychotherapy or using meditation or mindfulness to alleviate stress.
As a practice, we routinely provide our clients with resources prepared for us by psychologists and councillors and will encourage clients to access emotional support.
The best anyone can be is the best version of themselves. No one has a magic wand which can make an unreasonable and angry or bitter or deceitful other party conducts themselves in a reasonable or sensible way. However your best divorce lawyer should encourage you to concentrate on your own journey and the journey of your children. Hopefully, taking a sensible and pragmatic approach will encourage the other party to do the same (if they are not willing to be sensible already), but if not and a court process is inevitable, then your best divorce lawyer should assist you in not becoming drawn into the others negative emotions and unreasonableness.
If contested court proceedings result, a party who has presented reasonable proposals from the outset and conducts themselves in a reasonable way throughout, will almost invariably achieve the better outcomes and will minimise the damage to themselves and any minor children
if, both of the couple are able to find a way of working together to assist them both to find fair solutions to the joint problems that arise from their separation, then there are a greater range of process options available.
Mediation with legal support
Mediation is a process which involves a neutral mediator assisting the couple to negotiate solutions to the issues that need to be resolved. The mediator cannot give advice. Legal advice in support of mediation is normally given by the divorce lawyers between meetings – although sometimes, in particularly complex cases the divorce lawyers may come along to what would normally be expected to be the final mediation meeting.
The mediation process is confidential. Couples can agree solutions which can involve options which a court cannot impose. (For example gifting assets to the couple’s children or property solutions being facilitated by loans or gifts from other family members).
Your best divorce lawyer should take a positive view of mediation generally and if you choose to mediate, they should assist you in understanding how to negotiate and how to develop proposals which can lead to agreement.
In our practice, several of our team are either practising or non-practising family mediators. This means that we have a clear understanding of how mediation works and this will assist in advising how to make the best use of mediation as a process.
Collaborative Family Law is a process with similarities to mediation. Occasionally a mediator will be invited to assist with the process, but ordinarily collaborative family law proceeds through a series of 4-way meetings between the couple and their collaboratively trained lawyers.
At the outset of the process, all for will sign the collaborative contract – known as the participation agreement – which says that if an agreement cannot be reached through collaborative law, then the couple will need to find different lawyers to represent them in a court process. This agreement is not something to worry about – but rather is a strength of the process. If your best divorce lawyer has the confidence to recommend collaborative family law as the best option for you, and is satisfied that they will be able to work collaboratively with the other family lawyer, then both of the couple should have confidence that negotiations will ultimately succeed.
Collaborative family law has an advantage over mediation in that sometimes less confident clients will feel better supported through a collaborative family law than family mediation.
The choice between mediation and collaborative family law will require careful consideration. If collaborative family law is the best choice for you – then your best divorce lawyer will need to be trained as a collaborative family lawyer as will your former partner’s lawyer. Our team includes several who have trained as collaborative family lawyers.
Another advantage of collaborative family law, is that to assist with its problem-solving approach, other professionals can be brought into the process as needed, for example financial neutrals (financial advisers who can give neutral advice on financial issues) or family/children neutrals, who can assist more practically emotional blockages and with the practical side of child arrangements.
Ian Walker and Fiona Griffin are our Collaborative Family Lawyers
Focussed lawyer led negotiation
if issues are relatively straightforward and largely agreed, then it may be that the role of your best divorce lawyer is limited to checking that there has been open and honest financial disclosure, and then assisting in finalising and drafting the terms of a final financial order.
Focused negotiation can easily become unfocused negotiation where expensive letters pass backwards and forwards, slowly. Because of the legal language, these can drive division and dispute and will ultimately not lead to resolution. (And therefore expensive court proceedings become inevitable).
Your best divorce lawyer should seldom view letter writing as the default approach. It is normally better to talk. The use of mediation and collaborative family law provide structure to discussions. In our view – couples who are able to successfully engage in mediation or collaborative family law achieve better long-term outcomes – not least because they will come out of their process with a better sense of having achieved fairness.
Going to court but getting on with it
If the other party is not willing to be reasonable, or engage in face-to-face sensible negotiations and it is clear that the case cannot easily be resolved through focused lawyer led negotiation – then if it is inevitable that a court application is required – then it is better to simply get on with it. This will avoid the delay of months of letters meandering backwards and forwards at great expense. Going to court is expensive – but overall costs are more expensive if money has been wasted getting nowhere, before the court application.
If going to court is inevitable, your best divorce lawyer should be focusing on matters within the court process that are important (which very often means not arguing every single point!) Your best divorce lawyer should be outcome focused. What is a fair final outcome? Everything that is done within the court process should be aimed at working towards achieving that fair outcome as quickly and as reasonably as possible. Success in court cases is not achieved by taking unreasonable positions and arguing everything.
Personality is very important. It is important that you have confidence that you are being listened to and represented. You need to know that your divorce lawyer understands what you want to achieve and the level of service that you require.
In order to assist us in understanding our clients we have embedded a simple (but surprisingly accurate) communication style questionnaire on our website. This assists us matching clients with the best divorce lawyer for them within our team. The test is also a prop which helps us to talk freely and openly about these matters. Many lawyers are good at detail and analysis, but can be quite rigid in how they work and are perhaps less good in understanding emotions. Others, might be less good in their follow-through.
One client might want lots of detail and time before they feel confident in making decisions, other clients might be happy to trust their lawyers judgements, and want to get on with matters quickly and simply want the options – so that they can make a decision and are less concerned with the detail justifying the options legally.
You need to have a good mutual understanding with your best divorce lawyer, so that they understand how they can best work with you. There will need to be openness and honesty in the relationship and the ability to have frank and sometimes difficult to discussions.
These days the vast majority of family lawyers will be members of Resolution http://www.resolution.org.uk/ which is an organisation with 6500 family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution family disputes.
Resolution members follow a code of practice http://www.resolution.org.uk/code/ that promotes a nonconfrontational approach to family problems. Resolution members encourage solutions that consider the needs of the whole family – and in particular the best interests of children.
All of our team are committed members of Resolution, and indeed our founder Ian Walker is the long-standing Chair of the Devon region of Resolution members. Fiona Griffin and Stephanie Hinde are members of the Somerset Resolution Committee.
In our view it is unlikely that your best divorce lawyer will not be a resolution member. How can they not justify adherence to the code of practice and membership?
If you live in Sidmouth or Honiton, it is unlikely that your best divorce lawyer will be in Bristol or London. Whilst it is possible to hold client meetings by Skype, it is not ideal and it is much better if your best divorce lawyer is either reasonably local to you or is local to the court where the case is proceeding (particularly in children matters).
As a practice we have offices in Exeter, Honiton and Taunton and a consulting room in Yeovil. Being able to meet with the client reasonably conveniently and face-to-face as the case progresses is we feel important to achieving the best outcomes.
Price and budget
Legal services are expensive. Openness about charging is important. As a practice we are very open about how we charge. We have always published our charging rates on our website https://familylawandmediation.co.uk/payments-2/
We have a fair charging policy https://familylawandmediation.co.uk/payments-2/fair-charging-policy/ which means we avoid so-called smart charging – where a client is encouraged to sign up to a more expensive service than they actually need – normally these are sold as gold/silver/bronze service levels.
Rather than offering a free half an hour – where for professional reasons (potential professional negligence) and data protection issues, it is highly unlikely that any advice would be given – before an expensive clock is turned on – we instead offer ongoing charge rates which our own market research shows are highly competitive in comparison to comparable practices.
Some firms will deliberately position their charge rates so that they are the most expensive, so that their clients think they are paying for something better. However, remember that solicitors move around between practices. Their time could easily be charged at a different rate (higher or lower) if they moved to the practice next door.
There is little point instructing an expensive solicitor when the work could be done by a solicitor and a similar practice at less cost, or instructing an expensive solicitor and then running out of money as the case continues and approaching its end.
Charge rates are not everything in the decision to instruct – but openness about charging should be fundamental. If you are worried that our charging rates are too low in comparison to others, then we are happy to match their charging rates and donate the difference to a children’s charity.
Innovation is also helpful to keeping costs reasonable. We make good use of IT and cloud technology (backed by the cyber essentials quality mark), and using business centres to provide a wider range of professional meeting locations. This use of technology and inexpensive office accommodation allows us to keep our overheads down. We are able to share savings with our clients in our charging structure.
In our view your best divorce solicitor is likely to be part of a team. This is important because this means that your best divorce lawyer will be supported by colleagues. A good team means that there will be a better range of experience and expertise. There is also better scope for cover (for example holidays) and for delegation of straightforward tasks to junior colleagues (who charge less).
Having a large team has meant that we can invest in what we consider to be the best practice support service available to family lawyers (which would not have been affordable when Ian Walker founded our practice as a sole practitioner).
We have built one of the larger and most experienced teams of family lawyers in Devon and Somerset. Our team includes Ian Walker (previously a partner with Tozers), David Howell-Richardson (previously a partner and head of family Law with Stones Solicitors, and Trowers and Hamlin Solicitors), Kim Stradling (previously a partner and head of family law with Everys Solicitors), Fiona Griffin (Previously a partner and head of family law with John Hodge Solicitors) and Sandy Powell (previously a partner and head of family Law with Dunn and Baker Solicitors). To our knowledge this is the greatest concentration of former heads of family law teams with other firms in the South West.
Prizes and awards
These days there are so many prizes and awards run by different organisations that it has almost reached the point of meaninglessness. Judges will only judge the (usually self-) nominations in front of them, and the judges in any particular prize giving may not be the best experts to recognise the best candidates. In 2017 a business magazine in Devon ran a prize-giving which picked the 100 most influential women in its location. Several family lawyers were included (and by no means the combination we would have picked) – but surprisingly – not any of the women Judges who actually make the decisions at Court! Who is more influential? We would say the Judges.
For the professional directories, long applications need to be made for inclusion and there is an encouragement to pay for advertising which pays for the directories.
As a young practice we have preferred to concentrate on doing the work that we do and applying our resources to do this better. We have invested in growth and innovation. In return we have grown from being Ian Walker as a sole practitioner to one of the larger family law teams in Devon and Somerset. Our clients find us through recommendation and because they like the approach that we take.
We don’t hold any awards at present because we simply haven’t entered.
Legal Ombudsman Guide
If things go wrong between a solicitor and their client then complaints can be made to the legal ombudsman. There are sadly, too many complaints generally in the area of family law. These often arise through poor communication between solicitor and client, insufficient openness about costs, and/or unrealistic expectations which have not been corrected.
The legal ombudsman publishes a very good guide to the use of divorce lawyers. Here is a link; https://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/downloads/documents/publications/Using-a-divorce-lawyer-ten-helpful-tips.pdf
We can fully agree with most of the content, save with mediation – it is always better to get legal advice before reaching a final agreement in mediation, rather than receiving advice afterwards and discovering that there were important matters which had not been considered or sufficiently taken into account.
An unravelled and failed mediation agreement can be very damaging between a couple and should be avoided. Rather than considering mediation before instructing a lawyer – we would say that your best divorce lawyer should be encouraging and supporting mediation where appropriate – but will assist you in making the best of mediation.
It’s good to talk
You won’t know if our team includes the best divorce lawyer fee you unless you get in touch. Please do arrange a meeting, and we will be more than happy to assist.