What is joint divorce legal advice?
Divorce and family law in the UK is changing. In the last 10 years it has become possible for same sex couples to get married, opposite sex couples to enter into a civil partnership, and for couples wishing to end their marriage or civil partnership to do so jointly without having to make accusations or prove fault. In line with these changes, it is now also possible to receive joint legal advice from the same person when you wish to end your relationship.
Traditionally, when a couple wanted a divorce or dissolution, each party would instruct their own lawyers who would advise them accordingly. This sometimes led to a battle between competing lawyers as they fought to get the best outcome for their client based on their interpretation of the law.
Following a 2020 case, Mr Justice Mostyn declared that there was no conflict of interest for one legal adviser to act for both parties as long as there was a common interest or a shared objective. We believe this is a significant development in divorce and family law in England and Wales.
From our experience of dealing with many thousands of divorces, civil partnership, and family cases, we have not yet found one client who did not want their case to end as quickly, economically, efficiently, and painlessly as possible. This is an objective shared by most couples who wish to end their relationship. We believe joint divorce legal advice will make this objective easier to achieve.
Joint divorce legal advice is guidance, support and advice on the law given by one person to a couple who want to end their relationship amicably and without conflict. The advice is given to the couple on a jointly beneficial basis to assist them to find the best way to end their relationship and help resolve children and/or financial matters.
What type of cases can joint divorce legal advice be used for?
Joint divorce legal advice can be used if a couple wish to separate, divorce, or dissolve their civil partnership. It can help them decide the terms of how and when the relationship will end and make arrangements about finances and arrangements for children.
When is joint divorce legal advice not appropriate?
Joint divorce legal advice is not appropriate in the following situations:
- Where there is conflict or significant risk of a conflict arising.
- If there are safeguarding concerns for children.
- Where there are allegations of domestic abuse and/or violence, including psychological harm.
- Where there is an imbalance of power between the parties.
- If one person is not prepared to negotiate.
- Where there are allegations of hidden assets.
- If there is any actual or a perceived concern that either or both parties may be involved in an unlawful activity
- Where the parties cannot agree upon the financial assets and liabilities.
- Where there are complex legal issues or jurisdictional issues.
How does joint divorce legal advice work?
The process usually starts with the divorce specialist meeting each party individually to consider any risks to either of them and/or any children, and to ensure that person freely wishes to enter into the joint legal advice process and is prepared to work with the other spouse or partner to reach a fair agreement.
As long as no risks or concerns are identified, a divorce specialist will ascertain the issues that are important to each person, and the outcomes they each would like to achieve. The role of the divorce specialist is to advise the parties jointly on the law relevant to their case and identify all of the possible options and outcomes available to them to enable them to reach an agreement based on their objectives.
It is important to note that a jointly instructed divorce specialist is not able to negotiate on behalf of either party or make any decisions for them. Their role is to jointly advise and guide the couple for their benefit.
During the joint meetings the divorce specialist will also considers both parties respective financial positions and financial needs to ensure that any agreement reached is fair to both parties and is within a range of possible outcomes that a Court would likely approve. The divorce specialist will also advise as to the legal effects and implications of the agreement reached.
Where necessary the divorce specialist will indicate whether there are other professionals who may be able to assist and support the parties such as experts in tax or pensions.
What are the benefits of joint divorce legal advice?
Joint divorce legal advice provides a less adversarial, cheaper, and quicker solution to couples wishing to end their relationship. The benefits are:
It is cheaper – Couples are only paying one fee to one person instead of two separate legal fees for each lawyer they instruct.
The process is far quicker and flexible – An average contested divorce financial case usually takes 24 months from start to finish at a cost of £14,000 per party. By contrast most cases involving joint divorce legal advice can be concluded within 6 months at less than half the cost.
With joint divorce legal advice, the couple sets the pace and the timetable they are comfortable with.
Less adversarial – With joint divorce legal advice everyone works together without acrimony and conflict. With the advice, guidance, and support of a trained specialist, a fair solution is sought.
Certainty – You know from the outset what your legal fees will be as fees are fixed.
Transparency – If both parties are committed to honest and open dialogue expressly aimed at reaching a common goal of reaching a fair agreement, the likelihood of hidden agendas, positional stances or game playing tactics are greatly reduced.
How we can help you
As specialists in divorce and family law with backgrounds as Solicitors, Mediators and Collaborative Lawyers we offer couples focused approached solutions and services to meet your objectives. Using over 30 years of experience in divorce and family law, we provide joint divorce legal advice as to how the law applies to your situation, the options available to you, and how we consider a Court is likely to approach your matter. Our aim is to provide you with the tools and information you need to be able to make informed decisions so you can end your relationship as painlessly, and economically as possible.
We will assist you in completing your financial disclosure and support you in any questions or concerns you may have during the process.
If we feel that a Court is unlikely to approve any agreement you may have reached, we will inform you of this and work with you to find a workable solution that will be approved by a Court.
Before we set up any joint meetings, we will always meet with you individually to consider any risks to either of you and/or any children, and to ensure you are both prepared to work together to reach a fair agreement. We will also continue to screen throughout the case to look out for any factors which makes continuing with the joint process inappropriate or unsafe.
As we are providing you both with joint divorce legal advice we cannot advise you individually outside of joint meetings, nor can we withhold information you share with us away from your spouse or partner. Apart from the initial screening meeting, all other meetings will be open to both parties and any information you provide us will be shared openly with the other party.
Unlike most solicitors, we do not have retainers, 6-minute units, hourly rates, or monthly bills, so you are guaranteed that your legal fees are fixed and transparent from the start.
How can conflict of interest be avoided?
We cannot provide joint divorce legal advice if we have an own-interest conflict or a significant risk of one. In addition, we cannot act if there is a significant risk of a conflict arising. For that reason, we carry out an initial screening and continue to screen throughout the case to look out for any factors which would makes the joint divorce legal advice inappropriate or unsafe.
What happens if we reach an agreement?
If you are in complete agreement, we will draft a binding document (a draft Consent Order) which can be lodged with the Court for approval. Alternatively, we can include the terms of the agreement in another document such as a Separation Agreement.
What if we cannot reach an agreement?
Sometimes it may not be possible to reach an agreement between you. If fundamental disagreements remain between you that we cannot assist with, there are many options that can be explored to narrow any gaps. These include Arbitration, Mediation, obtaining a Barrister’s Advice, or having a private Financial Dispute Resolution appointment. As a last resort, you could apply for a Court to decide. This is by far the most expensive and time-consuming option and one we would encourage you to avoid. We will always look at other ways to resolve any disagreements you may have.
Can we receive independent advice too?
Yes. You are both free to seek individual and independent legal advice at any time as long as you remain committed to dealing with the matter amicably and without conflict.
Frequently asked questions about joint divorce legal advice
What is the difference between joint divorce legal advice and mediation?
The roles are different and distinct.
Joint divorce legal advice is legal advice received by a couple on a joint beneficial basis where there is no dispute or conflict. We do not negotiate for you nor are we resolving any conflict between you. Our role is to advise you jointly as the law, and present you with options, likely outcomes, and solutions.
Mediation in contrast focuses on negotiation and resolving conflict between two parties. The Mediator however is prohibited from giving legal advice.
We already have reached an agreement; can we still use you?
Yes, we can assist you by drawing up the agreement into a legal document and advise you on whether the Court is likely to consider the agreement fair and the legal effects of the agreement.