Divorce & dissolution and financial remedy – how to prepare for your initial meeting with a family solicitor

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Hannah Coupe
Burgess Mee Family Law

Once an individual has made up their mind that they are going to separate from their spouse or civil partner, their attention may turn to instructing a solicitor. Whilst this is not necessarily the best way to proceed for everyone, and individuals should first consider whether their case might be suitable for mediation (which can be a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes), many individuals do end up taking this step.

Going to meet a family solicitor for the first time can be a daunting prospect, particularly because of the personal nature of what you are going to discuss with them. To try and help reduce any anxiety about this meeting, set out below is a summary of what you can expect to discuss with your solicitor at that initial meeting and what it might be helpful to have thought about and prepared ahead of time.

What you will discuss

  • What you would like to achieve;
  • Basic details about your spouse and any children of the family;
  • What has brought you to this point;
  • Your solicitor will explain how any divorce or dissolution will proceed alongside resolving the financial aspect of your separation and the arrangements for any children;
  • The overarching principles surrounding the above, which will inform the advice your solicitor provides to you; and
  • Your solicitor will provide advice regarding the likely timeframe to achieve your objectives.

Things to have prepared

  • Your solicitor will ask you to provide some key dates regarding your former relationship, such as:
    • When you commenced your relationship;
    • When you started living together; and
    • When you consider that the marriage or civil partnership ended.
  • A brief explanation of why the relationship broke down. It is helpful for your solicitor to have this background information so they can support you properly through the process and be aware of any relationship dynamics which might affect how they manage your case.
  • A brief summary of your financial assets. You will usually complete in-depth financial disclosure with the help of your solicitor. However, at your initial meeting, it is helpful to have a broad overview of what the assets are in the case. Perhaps make a bullet point list of yours and your spouse/civil partner’s assets and provide a rough value for each asset (you do not need to bring any supporting documentation with you to your first meeting). Some solicitors use an onboarding questionnaire to do much of the fact-gathering in advance, which means your first meeting will be that much more cost-effective and can concentrate on the advice. Generally, though, you should consider the value of the following assets:
    • The family home (and the value of any outstanding mortgage);
    • Any other properties you own;
    • Other assets of value such as cars, jewellery, watches, art etc;
    • The balance of bank accounts, savings accounts and the value of investments;
    • Any business interests (and start making available the last set of accounts); and
    • The cash-equivalent value (or CEV) of any pensions (as well as a state pension forecast as a precautionary measure).
  • Similarly, it is helpful for your solicitor to have a rough idea of your and your spouse/civil partner’s respective incomes (whether from employment, any trust interests or from your investments).
  • If you are aware that your spouse/civil partner has instructed a solicitor, it would be helpful to make a note of their name and firm so that you can pass it on.

The above points are by no means exhaustive and your solicitor may focus on what they think are the most important issues to be addressed. However, your solicitor will also be guided by you – the more information you can provide to your solicitor, the better, as it will allow them to give much more tailored advice and help you get the most of out of your meeting. Similarly, your solicitor will understand that you have a life beyond your divorce and as such it is not essential to attend your first meeting armed with all of the information set out above.

You do not need to go into the minutiae of the reasons the relationship has come to an end in your first meeting but in any event, your solicitor will be mindful that this is often a difficult topic to discuss. If you need to take a break from the meeting, you can ask to do so at any time or even park any of the issues you may not be ready to talk about.

Taking this first step after separation is bound to be difficult. However, making time ahead of your first meeting to think about the points above can pay dividends. The general stocktake will help you to feel that much more prepared and in control of what may seem like a very intimidating process. Remember that you are not alone – your solicitor is there to support you and help put in place a team around that will allow you to make informed decisions about your future.

More articles by Hannah Coupe

Hannah Coupe

Hannah Coupe is a solicitor at Burgess Mee, an award-winning specialist family law firm in London. Hannah advises on a broad range of family law matters, including divorce, matrimonial finance, nuptial agreements, and issues relating to children. She is also a member of Resolution, an organisation for lawyers which promotes a constructive and non-confrontational approach to family law cases.

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