Family lawyer reveals how to protect yourself during a divorce

Have YOU been hit with a new year’s divorce? Family lawyer reveals the 7 financial questions you need to answer if you want to split – including how much you owe on the mortgage and how much your pension is worth

  • The first Monday of the New Year has been given grim nickname ‘Divorce Day’
  • Julian Hawkhead, the Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law, offers expert advice
  • Told never to rush into decisions and to draw up a list of all your assets and debts
  • Advised choosing good lawyer who will signpost all the options available to you

A family lawyer has revealed how to best deal with the fallout from a broken marriage if you’ve fallen victim to ‘Divorce Day’. 

The first Monday of January has been given the grim nickname because it reportedly sees a spike in separations, with the stress of Christmas and New Year celebrations proving the final straw for rocky relationships. 

Julian Hawkhead, the Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law, told FEMAIL the best ways to protect yourself legally and financially if either you or your spouse are seeking a divorce. 

If you are contemplating divorcing your partner, he suggests drawing up a list of your debts and assets, as it can be a timely and costly process, and choosing the right lawyer who can signpost all the options available to you. 

Meanwhile if your spouse has told you that they want a divorce, he advises not rushing into making decisions, and quickly finding a family lawyer who can talk you through your options. 

Julian Hawkhead, the Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law, told FEMAIL the best ways to protect yourself legally and financially during a divorce. Stock image

IF YOU ARE CONTEMPLATING A DIVORCE  

Consider the outcome

Divorce brings with it legal and practical consequences including the formal dissolution of your marriage, a change to the arrangements for how you care for your children and the opportunity for the court to make orders, with or without your agreement, concerning your property, assets and income.

Divorce brings great upheaval. Nobody should ever think that a divorce is simply another piece of paper because the ramifications can be lifelong.

So, before you take another step along this road, are you sure the marriage is over? Have you done everything you can? Have you sought advice from others or undertaken some professional relationship counselling?

Questions you’ll need to answer 

How much is the family home worth?

How much do you owe on the mortgage?

What bank accounts are there?

Are there any other investments in which you have an interest?

What are your pensions worth?

When did you last get statements for all of these assets?

Do you know how much you spend a month on your daily living costs?

Get your house in order

To get a financial settlement, you need to be clear what there is, so gather your paperwork to draw up a list of all your assets and debts.

So much time can be spent with lawyers on these practical tasks so help yourself by doing your homework first.

Understand your options

Family lawyers are the most common point for gathering information. 

Many firms have websites stacked with information and content on the legal processes, but every case is different with its own nuances, so speaking to an expert about your circumstances is essential.

However, speaking to a lawyer doesn’t mean you will end up in a court dispute over your children or your assets. 

The vast majority of cases are resolved by agreement, and a good lawyer will signpost all the options available to you, including reaching agreements through discussions, mediation and other non-court based options.

A good lawyer will also understand how long it should take to conclude the case and how much it will cost you.

IF YOUR SPOUSE HAS TOLD YOU THEY WANT A DIVORCE   

Seek personal and professional counsel 

The news that your spouse wants a divorce may have come out of the blue, or you may have seen it coming.

Either way, it will cause a sense of upheaval and uncertainty about the future, and you mustn’t try to manage this situation on your own. Seek the counsel of friends or family. Do some research on the internet.

Seek professional advice regarding the legal consequences of a divorce with a lawyer and the emotional impact of what is happening to you with a counsellor or divorce coach.

The impact of divorce can be significant and affect your physical and mental health, and you may need to seek your GP’s advice.

The news that your spouse wants a divorce may have come out of the blue, or you may have seen it coming. Either way, it will cause a sense of upheaval and uncertainty about the future, and you mustn’t try to manage this situation on your own (stock image) 

Remain alert and aware 

First off, find a family lawyer who can talk to you about your options. Understanding what your options are will help you know that you have not lost control.

They can also signpost other professional support for you, including psychotherapists, relationship counsellors and financial advisers.

It is natural to be suspicious of your spouse if they have announced they want a divorce.

They have likely been planning this for some time and if trust has completely disappeared all sorts of suspicions will arise – have they hidden assets away? Will they try to trick me out of a fair settlement?

Again seeking legal advice at this time will help identify where there is legitimate cause for concern and what steps can be taken to protect you.

My advice is not to panic and instead, remain alert and aware. Ensure you are proactive instead of just hoping all will work out OK – or worse, be in denial that any of this is happening to you.

Avoid involving family in any disputes  

As I have already said, these are life-changing events, so you must take time to make any decisions and consult with advisers to understand the consequences fully.

Relationship breakdowns impact far more widely than on just the couple themselves. In the immediate firing line are the children, who in the worst of cases are used as pawns between the parents, causing long-term damage to the relationships.

It also impacts on the wider family, grandparents and friends. Blood they say is thicker than water but try to avoid bringing them into your disputes.

Remain focused on achieving outcomes

This is my advice to both parties.

If you remain focused on what you want to achieve, i.e. a fair financial settlement, children-centred arrangements that work best for them, and ensure they maintain a good relationship with both parents, then you won’t go far wrong.

Secondly, going down the route of recrimination and point-scoring will ultimately have no benefit to either of you. It will only make the divorce a longer and more expensive journey than it needs to be.

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