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3 Divorce and Separation

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1. Introduction

2. Where to start

Do I need a solicitor to get divorced?
It is probably a good idea to get some specialist advice from a solicitor when you start to think about separating or divorcing, particularly if there are money matters to deal with. They will tell you where you stand and help you work out your options. You may decide, after a first interview, that you can sort things out yourself, but at least you will do this knowing about your legal position.

Where can I find a good solicitor?
Solicitors are listed in Yellow Pages but you will need one who specialises in family law. Libraries and Citizens Advice Bureaux can be helpful, as well as people you know who have been to see a family law solicitor.

'Resolution' is an association of specialist family solicitors. It can give you the names of solicitors in your area who are members.

The Law Society also has a Family Law Panel. Solicitors on this panel have to pass an exam and prove they have family law experience. The Law Society will give you the names of solicitors on this panel in your area.

See 'Further help' for how to get in touch with these and other organisations.

Can I sort out my own divorce?
You can arrange a 'do-it-yourself' divorce, but it is not a good idea unless you are good at paperwork, good at figures, and your situation is straightforward. You will need the help of a solicitor if:

  • you have children;
  • you've been married for more than a short time (say, five years); or
  • you have assets that are more than just the family home and car.

If you do decide to act for yourself, you will need to contact your local County Court to get the guidance booklets and forms you will need. Phone the Court first to check that it has a divorce section. Its number will be listed in the phone book under 'Courts'. You can also download the forms and booklets from the Court Service website (see 'Further help' for details). The County Court staff will not be able to give you legal advice.

Can I avoid going to court?
You still need to use the courts to get a divorce itself, but 'mediation' is an alternative way of helping couples reach their own agreements about children and money.

A typical mediation service will offer you and your husband or wife a series of meetings with one or two trained mediators. In these meetings you can talk about arrangements for the children and money and see whether you can reach any agreement. If you can, a note will be made of the agreement, and you will both be able to check it with any solicitor you have.

Mediation can sometimes be paid for from public funds (legal aid), but normally you have to pay. It will probably be cheaper, though, than asking a solicitor to negotiate a settlement. Mediation often means that you and your husband or wife have a better relationship, which can be helpful for the future.

For more information about mediation, including how to find mediation services in your area, see the Community Legal Service leaflet 'Family Mediation'.

Do I need a solicitor as well as a mediator?
Mediators cannot give you advice on your own legal position, so you will probably need a solicitor to make sure that the agreement reached is best for you. Also, it is sensible to make into a court order any agreement you reach about financial matters. Mediation services do not do this for you, but a solicitor can.
For these reasons, most mediators will recommend that you also use a solicitor.

What will a divorce cost me?
The cost of divorce varies greatly, depending on how complicated your case is and how far you and your husband or wife can agree about things. Most solicitors' charges are based on how much time they spend on your case. Always ask for an estimate of costs when you first see a solicitor, but be prepared for this to change as your case goes on.

Apart from paying your solicitor, you will have to pay court fees if you are the petitioner (the person wanting the divorce), unless you:

  • are specially exempted (that is, the court can choose not to make you pay the fees, if it thinks you cannot afford them); or
  • get public funding ('legal aid').

There may be other fees (solicitors call them 'disbursements') for things like property valuations and, possibly, barristers' fees.

Can I get costs back from my husband or wife?
You may be able to get part of your costs back from your husband or wife if you both agree, or if the court orders it. But it is unusual for the court to order your husband or wife to pay your costs, and you will generally not get back all your costs.

Can I get help with costs if I can't afford them?
If you fulfill all the rules for it, you can have public funding to cover:

  • the divorce proceedings (called Legal Help); and
  • proceedings over money or children's issues (called Approved Family Help and Legal Representation).

You can also have public funding for mediation. The Legal Services Commission leaflet ‘A Practical Guide to Community Legal Service Funding’' for more information about the types of legal aid you can get.

3. Separation

4. Divorce

5. If you have children

6. Supporting your children

7. Money and property

8. Making arrangements should you die

9. Dealing with emergencies

10. Terms used in divorce and family law

11. Further Help

12. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: May 2019

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