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3 Divorce and Separation

pdf icon Download Divorce and Separation (PDF File, 381kb)

1. Introduction

2. Where to start

Do I need a solicitor to get divorced?
It is 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. The solicitor 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 of solicitors who have passed a special exam and have proven 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 you may need the help of a solicitor if:

  • you have children;
  • you've been married for more than, say, five years; or
  • you have more assets than just the family home and car.

If you decide to deal with the divorce yourself, you should 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, though you don’t always need to attend a hearing (see 'Do I have to go to court?'). You and your partner will also need to reach an agreement about children and money. Mediation is one way of doing this.

A typical mediation service will offer you and your partner 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 an agreement. If you can, the mediator will make a note of the agreement, and you can each check it with a solicitor.

If you qualify for legal aid, this will pay for mediation. Otherwise, you will have to pay for it yourself. But even if you have to pay, this will probably be cheaper than having a solicitor negotiate a settlement. Mediation can also bring about a better relationship between you and your partner, which can be helpful for the future.

For more information about mediation, including how to find mediation services in your area, see the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet ‘Family mediation: Dealing with relationship breakdown without going to court’.

Do I need a solicitor as well as a mediator?
Mediators cannot advise you on your 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 partner can agree about things. Most solicitors’ charges are based on how much time they spend on a case.

Always ask for an estimate of costs and the hourly charging rate when you first see a solicitor, but be prepared for this estimate 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 partner?
You may be able to get part of your costs back from your partner if you both agree, or if the court orders it. But it would be unusual for the court to order your partner to pay your costs, and you will generally not get back all the costs. So you need to budget for paying your legal costs yourself when you are thinking about a divorce.

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

  • the divorce proceedings (where the funding is called ‘legal help’); and
  • proceedings over money and children’s issues (where it is called ‘family help and legal representation’).

You may also get public funding for mediation. The Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet 'A Step-by-Step Guide to Legal Aid: Help with paying for civil cases' has 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 Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor and mediator specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: May 2009

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