Family Breakdown – Where to Start?

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Upon a relationship breakdown, when faced with a mix of emotions, upset and anxiety, it is often difficult to know where to start in terms of sorting out the most pressing worries (“…will I be able to stay in my own home and if so, how will I manage to pay the bills?…what about child care and the school runs?…), let alone trying to get your life back on track! There will undoubtedly be concerns as to how the immediate finances will be sorted out, and how the property and financial issues will be resolved. Answers to the following questions are likely to be sought.

• Do I need to record our separation?
• Should I divorce/dissolve my marriage/partnership or should I separate? What are the implications?
• What is to happen to the family home? Should it be sold, and if so, how should the proceeds be divided? Should it be transferred to one or other of us, or retained in joint names, and if so, upon what terms?
• What is fair?
• What should happen to the contents of the family home?
• Who should pay the outgoings on the property in the short term? What will happen in the longer term?
• Should maintenance be paid and, if so, how much?
• Should maintenance be paid for the children and, if so how much?
• How should pensions be dealt with?
• How do we divide the other capital assets?
• What happens to the family business? Do I have any claims over it?
• How do we resolve the practical issues about the children’s day to day care? Who will be responsible for taking and collecting them from school, and after school clubs?
• How much time should the children spend with each of us?

All of this needs to be considered, most usually, at a time when you are trying to cope and come to terms with the realisation that your hopes, expectations and aspirations for the future have been dashed.

Having an initial meeting with a Solicitor is often key. A good Family Solicitor will be able to advise you as to your rights, and will consider with you the options that are available to you in your particular circumstances. Such a meeting will enable you then to identify and decide upon the method you wish to adopt in an attempt to sort out and resolve the issues between you.

There are several possible routes available to separating or divorcing couples when wanting to achieve a solid outcome and they are rarely mutually exclusive, but can be summarised as follows.

Do it Yourself – the two of you sit down and try and work out the issues between you. Having a Family Solicitor in the background to give advice and support, or to help problem solve at times of impasse may prove invaluable.

Mediation – this is where the two of you sit down with an impartial third party (the Mediator) to assist in helping you reach your own agreed and informed decisions. The Mediator will facilitate the discussions between you, will provide information and will assist in helping you to explore options. If you are successful in formulating mutually acceptable proposals for settlement, the Mediator will draw up a Memorandum of Understanding, which can then be referred to your family Solicitor to incorporate into a legally binding form.

Collaborative law process – both you and your spouse/partner instruct collaboratively trained lawyers. The parties and lawyers work together in a series of face-to-face meetings to resolve the differences. There is usually an agreement not to take the matter to Court, and to commit to the collaborative process.

Arbitration – this is where the parties, usually with the assistance of Solicitors, appoint an Arbitrator to resolve the differences between them. This can involve a hearing before the Arbitrator, or sometimes the parties elect to have the issues decided upon following written submissions. The Arbitrator’s decision is final.

Lawyer negotiation – this is generally known as the more traditional route and involves an exchange of Family Solicitor correspondence in an attempt to negotiate terms of settlement.

Court – this is usually the method of last resort. However, there may be circumstances where a timescale and structure is required to bring about an early resolution, (particularly where one party is slow or reluctant to engage in negotiations for whatever reason) and so an application to the Court will be made. Where an application is made to the Court, negotiations will continue alongside the proceedings. If agreement cannot be reached during the course of the proceedings, the matter will ultimately be set down for hearing before a Judge who will determine the issues between the parties.

Bennett Griffin LLP have a strong family team, and so please do not hesitate to contact Jackie Mensah (01903 229914 – ) or Jackie Gifford (01903 229903 – ) should you require advice or assistance.