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14/02/2013 By: Anna Heenan
Many people’s biggest fear about going to see a solicitor is what it’s going to cost them. The much-publicised tale of divorcing lawyers Anna-Marie Harvey Kavanagh and Giles Kavanagh, who squandered almost all their assets in divorce costs, will hardly have helped. But remembering a few very simple guidelines could save you from suffering the same fate.
Divorce can leave you really worried about the future for you and your children. An initial meeting with a solicitor can help answer your questions and help you to decide on a way forward. It does not tie you in to using a solicitor.
If you prepare for the first meeting you will get more out of it. For example, make a list of your questions, prepare a list of your assets and liabilities (and, if possible, take along some documentation) and write down some basic details (full names, dates of birth etc) for you, your partner and your children.
Sometimes legal fees are an investment. One of the most important things to do on divorce is to sort out your finances. Even if you and your spouse have no joint assets it is important to get a consent order dismissing all of your financial claims against each other. There will be legal costs involved in this but those costs will protect you from claims in the future (when you might have a lot more for your spouse to make a claim against).
First, you and your spouse need to provide each other with the details of (and supporting financial documentation for) all of your financial assets (including those bank accounts you don’t really use), your income, your pension(s) and any liabilities. This is known as disclosure. Disclosure can be in lots of different forms: you don’t necessarily have to complete a Form E (the form used if you go to court).
Second, make sure your agreement covers everything. Very broadly, you should consider how you are going to deal with your assets, your pensions and your income. Think about how you are going to make your agreement work. For example, if one of you is going to take over the mortgage, ask the bank if this is possible.
One of the biggest reasons that legal costs increase is changing instructions. Think carefully about what you want your solicitor to do from the outset.
Generally, the cheapest way to get your divorce sorted is reaching an agreement with your spouse (directly or through mediation) and asking your solicitor to draft the documents. However, if you tell your solicitor that you just want them to draft the documents then the amount of legal advice they provide is likely to be limited.
Remember also that if you haven’t got a clear agreement (see 3 above) then your solicitor is not going to be able to just draft a document for you. The amount of work they will have to do is likely to be greater.
Virtually all solicitors will charge based on the time they spend on your matter. Therefore, the more you correspond with them, the higher your bill will be. This is something that you can directly control.
Consider your emails before you send them. It is very easy to fire off a quick email and then to send another later on when something else occurs to you. Instead, send a single considered email covering everything. This will be easier and quicker for your solicitor to deal with (and so cheaper for you).
If you are providing your solicitor with documents, do what you can to make these easy for your solicitor to read. For example, put them in chronological order or provide an index. Anything that makes life quicker and easier for your solicitor makes things cheaper for you.
If you have taken the decision to divorce then it is sensible to get things sorted as soon as possible. First, there is often a lot of tension surrounding financial issues and relationships generally improve once these issues are resolved. Second, from a costs perspective, if you do not contact your solicitor for several months then they will need to read into your file from scratch. This is a cost that is entirely avoidable.
These steps should help you to work with your solicitor in the most cost-effective way possible to reach the result that you want. The key is to be organised and, as far as you are able to, always keep in mind what it is you want to achieve. Finally, if you are ever in doubt about your costs position or what you can do to manage your costs, then ask your solicitor for further guidance.
Anna HeenanFamily Law SolicitorLeeds