We often receive calls from people in need of legal advice who are, for varied reasons, entirely financially dependent upon their husband or wife. They may be the homemaker, or there may be health or other reasons as to why they are dependent.
I have also unfortunately come across less palatable instances where the household finances and assets have been purposefully reorganised by their spouse in the lead up to the separation to place the weaker financial party in this position, in order to frustrate their matrimonial claims and instances where financial abuse has been an ongoing issue within the relationship.
Here is some general guidance for anyone seeking legal advice in these circumstances. I have covered both some practical suggestions on how to access legal services when your spouse controls the family income and assets, as well as what to expect from an initial meeting and funding options.
The view of the court is that both parties should be on an equal standing before the court when claims for matrimonial orders are considered, meaning that both parties should be in a fair position of being able to obtain the same standard of expert advice and representation as the other.
People should not be deterred from seeking advice due to cost, or feel pressurised to accept an unfair settlement offered by their spouse, due to the constraints of their own financial circumstances.
Why early independent legal advice is important
With these general principles in mind, we hope that whatever the circumstances, everyone should feel comfortable and able to seek early independent legal advice.
Why is this important? In the initial period following the breakdown of a relationship, there are many important decisions to be made. Many of these early decisions can have an impact upon the later positions available to adopt, as the case progresses. If made without legal advice, these decisions can have significant implications, for example on financial settlements and arrangements for children.
Initial contact with a family lawyer
If you don’t have access to or feel comfortable speaking with your family accountant or independent financial advisor for a referral, you can contact a family law firm direct. We deal with direct enquiries via telephone, email or through our website contact form.
Good family lawyers should be able to either help or signpost you to someone who can. At Silk Family Law, consideration is given at the earliest stage to whether someone qualifies for legal aid funding, in which case the availability of such providers will be signposted.
It is always the client’s own decision on whether they would seek to be represented by a legal aid franchise solicitor when they are eligible, or whether they would seek to instruct a solicitor privately.
Fixed fee initial meeting
At Silk Family Law, we offer all new clients an initial meeting during which the fee for the first hour is fixed. This gives all new clients the confidence to know exactly what they will pay for good quality initial advice from the outset.
The initial meeting is an opportunity for you to set out the background to your matter and to explain the issues you seek to be advised upon. The solicitor advising is an expert who will offer you advice in respect of your own questions but who should also identify the relevant issues affecting your matter, including those which you may not have considered yourself.
What should I expect from an initial meeting with a family lawyer?
Whichever family lawyer you speak to, the terms of any such meeting should be made clear to you in advance of you attending.
The scope of the instruction and cost commitment is only to attend the initial meeting. You are not tied into any further contractual relationship with the solicitor, other than the initial meeting. You may take the advice and choose to reflect before taking any further steps, or you can instruct the solicitor to take further action on your behalf immediately following on from the meeting. You should not be placed under any pressure by the solicitor to commit to any additional services.
If you choose to instruct your solicitor to undertake further work, you and the solicitor will agree the scope of the work and you should receive a letter of engagement promptly which should specify what this does and does not include.
Make the most of your divorce lawyer
Before attending the meeting, we recommend reading our blog post on how to make the most of your family solicitor or divorce lawyer – it contains tips and advice on which documents to take with you, what questions to ask and how to ensure the time is used wisely so you get the most out of the meeting.
How much will my family law or divorce case cost?
In an initial meeting, the funding of any actions identified as being necessary or advisable is always an issue for discussion between the solicitor and the client. We always aim to give open and frank advice regarding the likely costs of a matter. However, it is very difficult to give complete costs information at the earliest stage. Where it is appropriate or possible to do so, we will provide cost estimates.
What are the funding options for divorces or family law cases?
Where funding a legal matter is an issue, we consider with our clients whether they can be funded by any other source.
We will consider if there is any prospect of applying for litigation funding from a specialist provider. As we regularly work with such providers, we can quickly obtain an initial view as to whether this option is likely to be available. We can then assist our clients in preparing their applications.
There are also court applications which may be made quickly for court orders for the financially reliant party’s costs of the proceedings and for their immediate outgoings to also be met by the financially stronger party.
In some cases, voluntary arrangements on terms equivalent to the orders may entered into. Litigation conduct is an issue which the court may consider when making final orders. So if the circumstances clearly warrant such an arrangement, the financially stronger party should be advised to respond constructively to such a request as opposed to requiring the reliant party to apply to the court.
I hope this is helpful in clarifying what you can expect in the early stages of seeking a separation or divorce.
This blog post was written by solicitor Katie Machin. Katie is based in our Newcastle office, and works with clients across the region and nationally. Advising on all aspects of divorce, Katie specialises in highly complicated and antagonistic children disputes and has experience in complex financial cases and property litigation.
If you would like to discuss your circumstances in confidence, please feel free to contact Katie on 0191 406 5004 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Main header image: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.