If you have decided to separate, there are several routes you can take to formalise the end of your relationship. Here are some of the legal processes you can follow, with advice on how working together with your former partner can help to reduce conflict, stress and cost.
Before involving a lawyer or another third party, you can come to your own separation agreement, covering areas such as who pays the mortgage and bills, who will remain in the family home and how any joint debts will be handled. This can be useful if you’re not seeking a full divorce immediately and are parting on good terms. However, you may still want to engage a lawyer to ensure any agreement is legally binding.
Arranging your own divorce
Choosing this route will require you and your former partner to submit all relevant forms for a full divorce yourselves, without using a solicitor. However, you’ll still need to go through the courts and pay appropriate fees, and there’s no guarantee that the settlement you arrange will be seen as fair – it could be subject to change. If you do choose this option, it will be crucial to have open communication with your former partner to complete the paperwork together.
Trained mediators can be useful to support you and your former partner to work your way through issues relating to finances or childcare, and come to an amicable agreement. They act as neutral ‘referees’ to help ensure your discussions are constructive. In many cases this can help to avoid the need for court proceedings.
While mediation isn’t compulsory, or appropriate in every circumstance, you may be expected to explore mediation before court proceedings can commence.
If you are finding it difficult to reach an agreement via mediation or another route, you can use the services of an arbitrator, who will gather all the facts and come to a conclusion on your behalf, giving a third party ‘ruling’ on what should happen next. This process is confidential and could be more cost-effective than court proceedings.
Collaborative law involves a series of face-to-face meetings with your former partner and each of your solicitors. You are both in control of the agenda for what you would like to discuss and, because it is conducted in person, you can access legal advice right there and then, meaning an agreement can be reached more easily and quickly.
If it’s not possible to resolve issues and disputes outside of court, you may need a judge to rule on the details of your divorce. You can still come to an agreement before a final hearing. Otherwise a judge will make a legally binding decision they think is fair based on your situation and the evidence presented.
You can find more information about mediation at Sorting Out Separation.
The Money Advice Service provides guidance and support for divorcing couples.
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