Thinking about a divorce?
Let one of the UK’s top experts guide you through what to expect.
In 2015 she made legal history when she petitioned the Supreme Court to set aside the judgements regarding Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil, after their ex-husbands were dishonest about their assets in the original divorce proceedings.
The landmark ruling has set the bar for future divorce cases and the dual victory saw Ros become one of only three divorce experts to be included in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 of 2016.
With over 19 years’ experience in family law, the Manchester based mother-of-three discusses some of the most common fears and questions her clients have about divorce.
Uncertainty and Fear
Deciding to get divorced is a decision that most of us hope we’ll never have to make, but the sad fact is that a high number of marriages break down and finding yourself in that previously unimaginable situation, can be a daunting prospect.
Not only will you be dealing with the emotional impact of the separation but you’re probably worrying about other issues such as children if you have them, the division of assets and finding new homes.
While you may have been considering ending your marriage for some time, booking an appointment to discuss it formally with a lawyer may seem overwhelming. That first meeting may well be the first time you’ve ever had a need to meet with a lawyer and the prospect of ‘making it official’ can feel terrifying. Most people are upset and overwhelmed in the first meeting.
The important thing to remember is that meeting a lawyer for the first time doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get divorced and there will be plenty of time to change your mind.
A first meeting is simply a chance for you to meet your lawyer and discuss your situation and what options you have. Although it is a big step we are all human and understand how difficult these situations are so we will do all we can to put you at ease.
There is no denying that ending a marriage will be one of the hardest processes you will have to go through. With this in mind, there are lots of practical things you can do to help the process run as smoothly as possibly.
Professional counselling services can help ensure you make a considered decision and support you during and after legal proceedings.
Keeping a diary can be useful and provides a record for later on.
To start the process you’ll need your marriage certificate. If you can’t find it, don’t fret, you can order a copy from the General Register Office.
Try to make a list of your assets, liabilities and income and gather together paperwork relating to your finances.
If you have children, it is important to remember that just because your marriage has ended if you have children your combined parental responsibility remains and you will need to try to work together to co-parent your children. Make them a priority and work out what you can do to make the process less traumatic for them.
Choosing a lawyer
Choose someone you feel comfortable talking frankly and openly about personal matters to.
Some people find it easier to discuss the details of their personal lives with a lawyer who is the same gender as them.
If your case includes issues such as family businesses or trusts, it’s imperative to make sure your lawyer is an expert in those areas, with the right level of experience.
Using a family lawyer at a full service law firm can be useful because they will have specialists in areas such as corporate issues, tax, property and commercial litigation on hand.
The law is largely based on equality and designed to protect financially weaker spouses and children to ensure all the family are housed and have enough money to live on.
If you are unable to agree the maintenance a judge can decide the level of maintenance which should be paid by taking in account all of the assets, income and other resources. It is possible to secure assistance from your spouse to meet your legal fees.
For unmarried couples who cohabit “common law marriage” is a myth which in reality, does not exist. Claims are limited to support for children, or property invested in together.
England and Wales are considered to be two of the fairest countries in the world upon relationship breakdown. If there is any potential for your spouse to initiate proceedings in other countries, you should seek advice without delay as in many cases, it is advantageous to start the process in England and Wales, where fair financial provision prevails. The law is very different in other countries, even in Scotland and Ireland/ Northern Ireland.
Divorce can have a huge impact on children, the effects of which may be felt for a lifetime.
Whatever the reason for the breakdown of the marriage, take a step back to objectively consider the children’s needs and remember that they are entitled to maintain a relationship with both parents.
Using professional support from a therapist or child psychologist is highly recommended.
Where children are involved, court proceedings should be a last resort and in the long run alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, is a less traumatic option. Do however be alive for the potential for your spouse or former partner to press for mediation and rush through the process if you feel intimidated by them.
If you have young children choose a solicitor who is a specialist family practitioner, experienced to family courts and to dealing with access/care issues. The family law organisation, Resolution, has a list of accredited specialists in all areas of family law throughout England and Wales. Voices In The Middle are also an organisation we work closely with to help children while their parents separate.
There is no definitive formula to work out what it will be and the level of payment will be at the discretion of the judge. Maintenance costs are decided on a case-by-case basis.
The financially stronger spouse may have to pay child maintenance, and sometimes spousal maintenance, to prevent hardship and make sure they have enough money to live on.”
Adultery and Divorce
While adultery can have a catastrophic impact on a marriage it does not form a deciding factor of what a court will order in terms of finances.
Only in exceptional cases, which may include instances of a financial nature where an ex has gone on a spending spree or hidden assets, would bad behaviour impact a settlement.
It’s imperative to be honest about your assets as a failure to disclose them could have repercussions later down the line.
However, if the parties decide to reach an agreement outside of court, any factors they consider appropriate could be taken into account, which may include adultery.
Ending A Civil Partnership
There are now more than 120,000 people in the UK in civil partnerships. The number of these partnerships ending in separation is increasing, with a 20% rise in civil partnership dissolutions in 2012.
Since March 2014, same-sex couples have been able to marry, and since December 2014 civil partners have been able to convert their civil partnership to marriage if they so wish.
The process of ending a civil partnership is called ‘Dissolution’ and is similar to a divorce. You cannot apply to dissolve the partnership in the first 12 months.
The Civil Partnership Act allows civil partners to make financial claims against each other’s capital, income and estate in the result of death.”
Seeking Alternative Help
Seeing a therapist is not an alternative to legal advice, but seeking emotional support while going through a divorce can be very helpful.
While our family lawyers can empathise and offer support it can be good to separate the professional advice of lawyers and your emotional needs.
Therapists and divorce consultants can help put problems into perspective and guide you through what can be a lengthy process of recovery.
We work closely with divorce charities which help support families and can help put you in touch with the right service provider.”
You are not guaranteed privacy during court proceedings anymore, so bear in mind that your case could be reported by media. There is a shift towards transparency in the family courts and judgments can be published at the discretion of the judge. You can argue that any such publication should be anonymised, especially if the judgment relates to your children.
No Fault Divorces
As it currently stands spouses must be separated for at least two years in order to divorce – unless it can be demonstrated that one spouse has behaved unreasonably or committed adultery.
The reality is that life is rarely as black and white as that and many couples decide to end their marriage because they have grown apart and fallen out of love.
This means that in many cases one spouse is legally required to admit fault, despite the fact it may not be true. It can be an upsetting decision to make and causes fear that there may be consequences later down the line for the spouse who admitted fault.
The law doesn’t cater for this and highlights the need for ‘No Fault Divorces’ which the Government are currently considering introducing. Even if the divorce is based on fault, it is extremely rare for the fault to impact on the court’s approach to either the arrangements for the care of the children or the division of the assets.