10 Classic divorce mistakes

Divorce|September 3rd 2014

Tomorrow we will be issuing the statistics of two combined surveys my firm has done in August 2013 and again in 2014.

The findings are startling. Stressful school holidays wreck the relationships of nearly a fifth of parents (18 per cent), resulting in a surge of separations in September. If you are one of those contemplating separation or a divorce please don’t make an unhappy situation worse.

Here are some of the catastrophic errors which even the most successful and confident men and women – and on occasion, their lawyers too! – can make in the run-up to a split or during divorce proceedings.

1. Thinking you know it all.

The truth is that unless you are a divorce lawyer, you don’t. You wouldn’t pull your own teeth out, would you? Or conduct an appendectomy on yourself? People who represent themselves can end up living with very unfair decisions. Try seeking expert advice before you proceed. There are some great free resources out there such as my divorce advice videos and other articles like this one on my blog. I often get personally involved in the discussions.

2. Taking the wrong route.

A “DIY divorce” is cheap – but expensive in the long run, if you settle for less than you are worth. A collaborative divorce is the perfect answer for some, but an exhausting failure for others. Which path is best for you?

3. Choosing the wrong solicitor.

Your choice of lawyer will have a significant impact upon your case.  Do you know what to look for and what to ask at that all-important first appointment?

4. Choosing the cheapest solicitor.

This can be a false economy. You may hope to save money by paying rock bottom prices, but if you receive low quality advice in return you can be left with less than your fair share. It is more important to choose a solicitor in whom you have every confidence.

5. Thinking that legal aid is available.

It isn’t. Since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), legal aid for private family law cases is limited to cases which involve domestic abuse.

6. Confusion over prenuptial agreements.

This takes two forms: believing that a prenuptial agreement is valid when it isn’t, or believing that a prenuptial agreement cannot be upheld when it can be.  In a landmark case called Radmacher v Granatino, heard by the Supreme Court in 2010, a prenuptial agreement was upheld. Since then the courts have been more willing to give “decisive weight” to prenups, so getting a family lawyer to evaluate your agreement is a good move.

7. Hiding money.

What happens when you are caught? The answer: any existing court order can be overturned, and you can be landed with a hefty bill. Some of the busiest team members at our firm are the forensic accountants, who specialise in tracking down secret bank accounts and other assets.

8. Adopting other underhand tactics.

Many of these are illegal, will reflect badly upon the culprit in court and may land him or her with criminal charges. Other actions are grey areas. Do you know what is allowed and what is not?

9. 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. Don’t settle because of financial pressure. Your lawyer really can advise you through it all.

10. Being an ostrich.

I know it is tough, but if your partner insists the relationship has broken down, don’t bury your head in the sand and refuse to accept the decision. You may only make the process – and your bank statements – more painful in the long run.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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