The end of a relationship, however it arrives, normally generates some sense of loss. It can take some time for clients to feel ready to speak to a solicitor about the practical reality of untangling their lives from their former partner. When they do feel ready to discuss it, the prospect of meeting with a solicitor for the first time can be daunting.
I asked our team of solicitors for their top tips and advice to help prospective clients prepare ahead of this important step.
- Spend some time thinking about what you hope to achieve from the meeting so that you can get everything you want out of your time with the solicitor. Send your solicitor a list of issues, or questions ahead of time so that everyone is clear about the points you want to cover. Are there any emergency steps that you have not already flagged (for example, concerns regarding domestic violence, or assets at risk of being sold off)?
- Leave early and ensure you arrive calm and collected. You will have some time to gather your thoughts before the meeting begins. Ensure you bring two forms of ID with you: i) a passport or driving licence (proof of identity); and ii) a utility bill or bank statement not more than 3 months showing your address. Your solicitor will need these to open a file for you and it is easier if you can provide them from the outset.
- If you have filled out our online ‘Settify’ questionnaire form, your solicitor will need to spend very little time collecting background information. If you have not had the chance to fill in our questionnaire before attending the meeting, it would be helpful for you to come prepared with a list of key dates (e.g. date of cohabitation, marriage, separation, when you purchased the family home etc.) and a schedule of your income, assets and liabilities.
- This is a good opportunity to start putting together a picture of your financial position. Although not required for any first meeting, you can start collecting information about your pensions and obtain copies of any company accounts, budgets and financial statements. However, you must only show your solicitor financial documents which you are entitled to see. Speak to your solicitor first if you are unsure about what this means, there are strict rules about separating couples ‘helping themselves’ to documentation that is private. You may also want to start thinking about a monthly budget now and whether there is any shortfall that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
- If you have children and you anticipate that there may be issues relating to where the children live and which parent they spend time with then you may want to produce a summary of the current childcare arrangements and examples of any difficulties which have arisen so that you can discuss specific issues with your solicitor. You do not have to make any significant decisions about your children at this first meeting, but you should start thinking about the arrangements for them. The court’s priority is the welfare of any children of the relationship.
- It is important that your solicitor has an understanding about the background to your relationship with your partner, your lives during the marriage and why you feel that the marriage has come to an end. It may be difficult for you to condense and explain this if the breakdown of the relationship is still very new and raw. While it might be your first meeting with a solicitor, they will be very experienced in dealing with these sensitive and emotional issues. Don’t feel that you have to rush through everything all at once and if you need some time to consider important points before you speak about them, you should just let your solicitor know. The meeting will run at your pace. This is about you.
- Everything that you tell your solicitor in the meeting (or during the course of your case) is confidential. However, you must still bear in mind that your solicitor has an ‘overriding duty to the court’ which means that they cannot lie or distort the truth to the court on your behalf. If you tell them that you have a trust fund in Switzerland, they cannot pretend that you do not. You should be as open and honest with your solicitor so that they can accurately advise you on the legal position and potential outcomes at court.
- If you arrange to meet with one of our solicitors to discuss the breakdown of your relationship, the meeting the issues in the case can generally be divided into one of three areas: the divorce, the finances and the arrangements for the children. Your solicitor will also discuss your assets and the potential outcome if you were to make an application to court. The solicitor will also explain the other methods of dispute resolution, such as arbitration, mediation and negotiations through solicitors, as (better) alternatives to the court process. The solicitor will also highlight any issues upon which further information, documentation or advice is required. For example, if there are complex issues to do with trusts or companies, the solicitor may need to know more about the assets before advising you fully.
- Resolving financial issues on divorce is largely a commercial and financial matter. Your solicitor will be a trusted confidante and offer you the legal advice and support that you need in order to reach a favourable outcome. In order to economise and limit your legal costs it is helpful for clients to have a support network who they can rely on for emotional support while going through this difficult process. Your solicitor can speak to you about your support network at the first meeting and discuss different avenues for support, if that would be helpful. You may want to bring a friend or relative with you to the first meeting. This is fine but it is also important that you are comfortable discussing your separation in front of them. If the latter has only recently occurred, you may not feel ready to take that step.