How can I find a good divorce lawyer?
I have been a Divorce Solicitor/Divorce Lawyer since I qualified as a solicitor in 1992.
In 2013 I founded my own practice. We now have offices in Exeter, Honiton, Taunton and Weston-Super-Mare. We also have consulting rooms in Bridgwater and Yeovil. We will shortly be opening a further office in Torquay.
When I founded Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors it was just myself and a computer. In the space of a little over six years we have grown into a team of nine divorce lawyers/family solicitors. We are now one of the most experienced family law teams in Devon and Somerset.
When marriages break down
The breakdown of a marriage is a sad and emotionally challenging time. Each of the couple will have entered the marriage with the best of intentions. Each will have hoped that the marriage would last. Sadly, too many marriages end in failure.
There are all sorts of reasons for this. Couples grow apart or find that over time they become incompatible. Sometimes one of the couple will become abusive. Sometimes the pressures of life are just too much, and each will pull in different directions.
It is often the case that one of the couple concludes that the marriage has broken down irretrievably before the other. They may have grieved the end of the relationship and made plans to move on before the other is aware. This can mean that when the difficulties come to a head that one of the couple is in a very different place emotionally to the other.
It is not unusual for one or both of the couple to have feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, grief, depression at the breakdown of a marriage. One or both may well have anxieties about what the future will hold.
If the situation is difficult for the adults, it is often much worse for their children. At least the adults have some control over what happens next. Children are often caught in the middle between parents and have their own uncertainties and anxieties about what the future will hold and why mum and dad no longer get on.
The importance of a good divorce lawyer
Divorce has legal implications. Marriage is a legally binding contract. Ending the marriage involves obtaining a court order – the Decree Absolute. Achieving a clean break or other financial settlement also involves obtaining a court order. These court orders should be obtained.
Where child arrangements are concerned a court order can also be obtained to determine what the child arrangements should be. Such a court order will give certainty, but it is not the best outcome.
The best outcome for children and their parents is that the child arrangements should be agreed between their parents and that these should be reasonable and flexible and where both parents support the child’s relationship with the other parent and the parents work together and communicate well. This is often easier said than done.
When someone chooses a divorce lawyer – they want to achieve fairer outcomes and they do not want to make a difficult situation worse.
A good divorce lawyer should be able to assist their clients to make good choices and to help support them through a difficult time in their lives in a way which is as painless as possible – both emotionally and financially.
What do I need to look out for when finding a good divorce lawyer?
I would say that there are several things that you need to think about when looking for a good divorce lawyer.
Going to court over child arrangements or about financial arrangements can be very expensive and never helped anyone get on better with each other.
Most financial settlements are achieved through negotiation. The best arrangements for children are also achieved through negotiation. Therefore, you should look for a solicitor who is able to demonstrate their negotiation skills. Ways in which this can objectively be demonstrated are by the solicitor being qualified as a mediator or collaborative family lawyer or if they work within a team where good negotiation is clearly embedded in the firm’s DNA.
It is not good enough in this day and age simply to say that our default position is to make an application to the court and to negotiate – essentially at the door of the court.
In financial cases, negotiation cannot really start until financial disclosure has taken place – but there are choices about how the negotiation might be conducted. The skill of the lawyer is to assist their clients in finding the best process for them.
We are supportive of mediation. This involves referring the client to third party mediator (or one of our mediators acting neutrally for the couple) and providing legal advice in support of the mediation process. With mediation the couple will negotiate themselves – but are supported in doing so.
This is a good option but is not the right thing for everyone. Sometimes one of the couple will find the other overpowering and sometimes one or both of the couple will have difficulty saying yes to what is a reasonable final outcome (in part because they are in the habit of saying no to each other). Mediation works best where there is a confidence in each of the couple and they understand what they need and what the other needs and are prepared to make compromises.
Our team includes experienced mediators in both myself and my colleague David Howell Richardson. We encourage the use of mediation by the rest of our team.
A better process is in our view collaborative family law. This is an out-of-court process – because the couple make a commitment to negotiate solutions without going to court. The collaborative law process proceeds through a series of confidential meetings. The core participants are the couple and their collaboratively trained lawyers. Additional professionals such as accountants or financial planners or child consultants can be brought into the meetings and work with the couple parallel to the meetings in order to assist the problem-solving approach. We think that this is the best process. Both of the couple are supported by their solicitor and disagreements between professionals can be talked through so that the couple are better able to make pragmatic decisions.
Within our team, both myself and my colleague Fiona Griffin are collaborative family lawyers. I was one of the first to train as a collaborative lawyer in Devon and Somerset back in 2005.
Progressive practice means recognising that negotiations sometimes don’t get all the way to a final agreement. However, combining mediation or collaborative family law with arbitration is away to bridge any final gaps. Arbitration is another form of dispute resolution where a couple choose to instruct a private judge called an arbitrator to determine any outstanding issues in a way that is legally binding. This process fits well with mediation and collaborative family law.
Both mediation and collaborative family law are talking solutions. This is particularly important when there are children. The best outcome for children require parents to continue to talk to each other. Negotiating and agreeing solutions together should improve outcomes for a couple’s children.
Talking processes can be difficult at first – because of underlying emotions and a lack of trust, but the rewards of success should normally mean that these difficulties should be embraced and overcome (which is why in our view collaborative law is better – because the couple are better supported)
Experience is important – but is not the be all and end all. Practitioners can get into bad habits or become set in their ways. They may have been reluctant to embrace mediation or collaborative family law because they think that court-based solutions are the only solutions.
A younger solicitor with less year’s post qualification experience may be more committed to progressive practice than an older solicitor.
Nothing should be taken for granted. All I can say is that within my team I demand a commitment to progressive practice from everyone.
Family law solicitors are accredited by the Law Society and by resolution. Both have robust accreditation schemes. Having a panel membership is a way of demonstrating expertise and competence. These do not necessarily demonstrate a commitment to progressive practice – but they are a factor which should be taken into consideration.
Transparency about costs
The days are long gone when clients should not expect to have a straightforward conversation with their solicitor about costs.
In 2018 the Solicitors Regulation Authority introduced a requirement that solicitors provide some transparency over pricing. The requirements were limited and only applied to a small number of types of work/processes. It is often hard to find the required information on firm’s websites.
We have always been open about our charge rates. We have always published our base charge rates on our website. Few firms do this. We do not understand why there should be any mystery.
We also recognise that as well as transparency clients want pricing choices. We are very open to working to fixed fees and two other pricing options. Getting fixed fees right is important and this is not something that can really be done properly at an initial meeting. This is because until contact is made with the other party – and there is greater clarity over what needs to be done – and what process will be used to try and achieve an outcome – there are too many unknowns. What we can do is commit that as soon as the situation becomes clearer – we will offer a client a range of pricing choices from proceeding based on hourly rates as well as fixed fee choices.
We recognise that the world around us is evolving and the technology through which we deliver our service is better than it was five years ago and much better than it was 10 or 15 years ago.
We have recently adopted a client engagement tool which also sits on our website. This enables clients to provide us with a lot of information prior to their initial meeting with us. In the past the first half-hour of a meeting with a client would have involved asking lots of questions. This time can now be reduced – so that more time can be spent talking about the issues and options from the outset.
This is just one thing that we do. We do however recognise that some clients want to be able to undertake some tasks themselves – in order to keep costs down. We are very happy to have an open discussion with the client about who does what – when it comes to scoping out the work to be undertaken by us.
Another thing that we do is her that we subscribe to the best family law practice support service – which provides us with an extensive library and database and practice support tools which would have been unimaginable (and completely unaffordable) 15 years or so ago.
Whilst we are happy to share some of what we do in a post – there are other things which we will share with a potential client after they have made contact.
But the bottom line is that best practice for service delivery doesn’t stand still and good family law solicitors/good divorce lawyers will move with the times
Prizes and awards
Some firms invest heavily in public relations and enter the ever-increasing number of awards that are around. These awards are not necessarily judged by practitioners or relevant practitioners and certainly there are many firms that don’t enter or don’t have the time to enter.
As our practice has been growing, we have invested our time in other matters which we believe are more worthwhile – such as achieving the Law Society Lexcel Practice Management Accreditation. This is not an award based on a 1000 word also submission but where our practice is independently audited over two or more days to an extensive standard set by the law society. We would take the view that this is a better measure.
Making the choice
Ultimately you need to find someone that you can work with and have a rapport with.
To assist potential clients, know who we are – we have included on our website short video clips so that you have the chance to meet us on video before you meet us in person. We hope this How can I find a good divorce lawyer article has helped with your search.
If you have more questions about how to choose a good divorce solicitor you can see some common FAQ’s over on this page
If you would like to know more about us and to meet one of our team in person then please use the contact form below.
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