Marilyn Stowe in the Daily Mail: Divorce D-Day

Marilyn StoweThe following is an edited extract of an article by journalist  Deni Kirkova which appeared in the Daily Mail earlier this week:

January is the busiest month for enquiries, with 30 per cent more enquiries than the second busiest month of the year – and that number has grown year on year.

A study found that almost a fifth (18 per cent) of British parents say they return from school holidays only to consider divorce, splitting up, separation or other measures.

Almost half (46 per cent) report that they come under increased financial pressures during school holidays, with women (49 per cent) feeling the pinch more than men (43 per cent).

Nearly a fifth (14 per cent) of parents across the country say the best time to start divorce proceedings is just after school holidays.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first day back to work in the New Year is nicknamed ‘Divorce D-Day’ and is traditionally family lawyers’ busiest day of the year.

Parents who aren’t married are twice as likely to feel the strain in their relationship (10 per cent) than the ones who have tied the knot (5 per cent).

Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe, author of Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice From a Top Divorce Lawyer, says: ‘For many people, Christmas continues to be an expensive, exhausting, miserable slog.

‘Parents take on the festive chores year in, year out because they feel that they must and combine this with around the clock childcare. By the time Christmas is over, tempers have frayed and the children are under-stimulated and bored, making for an explosive environment not least because there is so much alcohol consumed over Christmas.

‘Many of my clients have complained about the hard work over the holidays, cooking all the food and the pressure to spend money they haven’t got. Credit cards get filled, there is the never-ending rounds of relations and friends. No wonder some relationships crumble under all this added pressure. ‘

……

Top lawyer Marilyn Stowe’s ten classic divorce mistakes to avoid

  1. 1.     Giving up at the first sign of trouble

I am frank with my clients, when they come to see me for the first time, about what divorce involves: the time, the money and the emotional cost. The grass elsewhere is not always as green as it may seem. Studies show that subsequent marriages are just as likely – more likely, in fact – to founder. If you are both committed to fighting for your marriage, can it be rescued?

2.     Refusing help

If your partner insists the relationship has broken down and will not budge, pretending it isn’t happening or refusing to accept the decision is not going to help. You will only make the process more painful, stressful and expensive in the long run. I have known people to continue to harbour vain hopes of reconciliation, even to the point of ignoring the pile of solicitors’ letters building up beneath the letterbox.

This approach, while understandable from an emotional point of view, can take its toll on your finances and on your health.  I often recommend professional counselling to clients: I have observed that when clients have been to counsellors, the results are often swift and truly amazing. Don’t sit there worrying.

3.     Thinking that when it comes to family law, you know it all

The truth is that unless you are a trained family lawyer, you don’t. You wouldn’t pull your own teeth out, would you? Or conduct an appendectomy on yourself? Following the disappearance of much family law legal aid, we are seeing increasing numbers of people representing themselves in court, for financial reasons.

However there have always been those who have represented themselves out of choice. Why they think they can provide their own, sound legal counsel, I do not know. The legal issues can be complex. A divorce will affect your life, and your children’s lives, for years to come.

4.     Thinking that legal aid is available

In most cases, it isn’t. New legislation, which came into force in April 2013, removed certain areas of law from public funding. Family law legal aid has now been limited to very few cases which involve domestic abuse. It is still available for mediation.

5.     Panicking about legal fees

Instruct a solicitor in whom you have confidence, who can give you a guide from the first appointment as to what to expect and why, and reach an agreement as to how much you will be charged and how the fees are going to be paid.

6.     Throwing money away

Always be pragmatic. Be ready to negotiate and to settle. On the other hand, if the other side isn’t playing ball and is intent on racking up costs, let the court take control and move to a hearing as fast as you can.

7.     Withholding information

Don’t be tempted to conceal little details or keep things to yourself. Instead, be honest and upfront with your solicitor. Keeping things hidden can be a way of trying to retain control of the situation, but by trying to pull the wool over your lawyer’s eyes you are potentially putting yourself at a disadvantage. In order to do their job properly, your solicitor needs to know the truth.

8.     Hiding money. Don’t even think about it

Forensic accountants who specialise in tracking down secret bank accounts and other assets are becoming more and more commonly involved in divorce cases. At our firm, for example, we have an in-house forensic accountancy team. Even if evidence of hidden finances are found after a divorce is finalised, an existing court order can be overturned retrospectively and the guilty party may be landed with a hefty bill.

9.     Thinking verbal agreements count

Proof is always in writing. Even in amicable cases, don’t rely on something agreed verbally. Your spouse may promise one thing but, unless it is clarified in an official settlement, it won’t hold up in court. Remember, matters can easily turn nasty. This isn’t just about how the wedding presents are divided. It is your future life and can affect how pensions are shared or who gets the children over the Christmas holidays.

10.   Settling your finances before you are ready

Timing is essential. Settle too early before all the assets have been fully investigated, and you may settle for too little. Settle too late and circumstances may have altered irrevocably. An economic recession or upturn can have major effects upon a case. And don’t settle because of financial pressure. Your lawyer can advise you through it all.

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Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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13 comments

Burnt B - December 31, 2013 at 4:22pm

Why does legal advice cost so much?
Is the training any greater than for other professionals who charge a fraction of the legal profession?
Surely if it were cheaper, fewer people would be forced to represent themselves.
Also, why do you need a barrister and a solicitor, and a judge, if you go to court, along with all the pomp, in the court setting?
Surely, the answer to to allow consumers the ability to help themselves, in the cheapest possible way, by cutting out all the crap.
Allowing more transparency, client involvement, and less mystery in the legal professions would help this.
In my humble experience I was told that I was an over involved client, for asking for some accountability, from my solicitor.

Andrew - December 31, 2013 at 5:08pm

Why do you need a judge?

Well, you see, Burnt B, if you and your ex disagree somebody has to decide, and we call them judges. There is very little pomp-and-circumstance in sittings before the DJ where most decisions about matters of finance take place, and not much more before the Circuit Judge.

Training? You try it, Burnt B. It’s a very long slog.

Burnt B - December 31, 2013 at 8:42pm

A longer slog than a vet, doctor, or an architect, all of whom get paid less?
I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking?

What extra training does a judge have other than experience, and being a solicitor or barrister,and what about a magistrate?
Surely, a judge needs to have extra training to overcome personal biases, emotional blockages, etc, something I’m unclear about.
Please, Andrew, answer, my questions?
I would be very interested to find out, as I’m curious.
No one I have asked so far, including you, has given me a very clear answer on the extra training needed to be a judge.

JamesB - December 31, 2013 at 11:03pm

It is very upsetting when you receive many completely unreasonable solicitors letters from the other side that your solicitor says you need to spend money responding to and the same with going to court which is expensive when the other side will not be reasonable.

It is a little glib, sorry Marilyn, to say be prepared to go to court. Court is too expensive and the law is not helpful either. Reasonable and reasonably priced pre nups I think are the answer, together with the abolishion of the broad brush formulas of the csa or similar organisations and overriding of them by pre-nups.

JamesB - December 31, 2013 at 11:03pm

P.s. Happy New Year to all.

JamesB - December 31, 2013 at 11:04pm

I do sympathise with divorce lawyers on if fees for this type of work go down. Still I think I sympathise more with society on having better family law and relationships accessible to all rather than just rich people.

JamesB - December 31, 2013 at 11:09pm

Burnt B’s initial question and his post is valid. I do not think Andrew answer’s it by saying it is hard and expensive to study it. So is plate tectonics but no one forces me to pay people who studied that! Too many divorce lawyers perhaps isn’t a good thing for society, sorry. Still I’m having trouble finding work myself at the moment so I am not being hypocritical, economics can be very painful I have found to my cost, still Burnt B’s point that access to family law is too expensive and exclusive and bad process I believe to be true.

Steve - January 1, 2014 at 8:56am

Happy new year to all, I have to agree with Burnt B, less mystery re the legal profession is required and the comparisons to the medical professions have to stop! Ask any solicitor involved with family law what they think the outcome will be and they wil say “Depends on the judge” I can see why we have a rise with LIPs, just go straight to FH and let the judge decide, certainly save a lot of costs!

Anonymous - January 2, 2014 at 2:03pm

There is no mystery Steve. Family law exists to stabilize patriarchal gender stereotypes, to keep men working and women at home as dependents. Outcomes almost always reflect this. You can do all the reading you want, and probably the most telling reading will be the judgments themselves, if you can find ones that really matter (those are usually censored or not published). You can also read all about the bogus child welfare principle too, which was brought in to counteract the progress toward the de-gendering of roles made in the 60s and 70s, and normalize the idea that children flourish best solely with their mothers. Essentially, though, everything has been written and set up with a view to alienating the father from family life after separation, so as to ensure that he remains employable and his ex-wife unemployable and dependent. (This works well for mothers, because they can get a free ride and retain a sense of dignity in the knowledge that they are earning their keep for childcare; unfortunately, though, it has damaged the relationships between children and their fathers, and therefore damaged the lives of generations of children). In this respect, lawyers and judges are really just servants of the Department of Work and Pensions. When you’ve understood this, you then have a basis on which to navigate the sociopathic world of family law. That doesn’t make this institutionalized form of child abuse and injustice any more excusable though.

As you say, though, it does sometimes depend on the judge, and there are a few about who do have a conscience and who do try, in the face of a government that would straitjacket them. (By the way, don’t believe the nonsense that you hear that the judiciary are independent).

Pete - January 3, 2014 at 4:48pm

JamesB so you sympathise with divorce lawyers on if fees for this type of work go down, Why ? I was billed £10,000 to be told one thing and for him to put the white flag up as soon as we got into court, oh and just out of interest how many people do you need in a solicitors office to press print x3 on a laptop ? All conversations with people in the legal profession should be recorded because when it comes to going to the ombudsman he is only interested in what was put in their notes at the time.

Luke - January 3, 2014 at 5:20pm

“I am frank with my clients, when they come to see me for the first time, about what divorce involves: the time, the money and the emotional cost.”
==================================

Quite right, but I wish such advice from counsellors was given BEFORE marriage.

I really think that if both parties went into detail about what a marriage certificate actually means legally then at least in half the cases one of the parties would pull out of the marriage.

Andrew - January 3, 2014 at 6:41pm

At the risk of sounding like a needle stuck in the groove (younger readers from the pot-vinyl age please forgive me): Point 6 would be less necessary if Calderbank was allowed again, wouldn’t it?

As for 3: there is an old adage, and pardon me for putting it in sexist form but that’s how it is usually quoted: A man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client.

It applies to women too!

Pete - January 5, 2014 at 2:40am

Andrew ref: 3 above , After 5 hour’s of my solicitor saying they (my ex and her solicitor) have rejected your offer what’s your next offer going to be ? How low can you go ? (meaning what’s the lowest amount I’ll walk away with) and then when the Judge is getting annoyed because she wants to do some reading for another case he holds his hands up and asks for direction.
He also told me on our first meeting it would cost less than £500.

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