Changes in Legal Aid funding have been impacting family law in many ways, not least in the number of people deciding to represent themselves in divorce proceedings because they believe they cannot afford proper legal representation. Andrew has touched on this topic a number of times in the last few months, and how it is already affecting the time it takes courts to deal with cases.
A big issue also is form filling. It is not very exciting but this is a vital part of the divorce process. An experienced family lawyer can do this quickly, and, most importantly, correctly. A client doing this on their own for the first time is unlikely to be able to do the same. This could have significant knock-on effects, particularly in financial settlements.
At the outset of financial cases, parties are expected to provide one another with all financial details, including their properties, businesses, bank accounts, credit cards, income and pensions. It is the process of “full and frank disclosure” and parties are expected to be open and honest from the very beginning with these details so they have all of the facts before trying to negotiate a satisfactory settlement. For many, this is completion of Form E: over 20 pages of questions as to your financial position, requesting copy documents to be included when passed to your “opponent”. It may feel quite intrusive, some questions don’t seem to have relevance and most are things you may not readily wish to share. However, if it isn’t properly completed it will cause delay and may increase costs. Whilst the court must treat both parties fairly, the judge can pass their own opinion on a person who refuses to provide the relevant information.
The courts want you to reach your own agreement wherever possible, and knowing all the facts is really the only way to do this and come away feeling that you had some level of control over the outcome. A judge cannot determine a case without all of the facts and your solicitor cannot fully advise you over proposals for settlement without knowing all the details.
At Woolley & Co we endeavour to resolve your financial claims without bringing an application at court in any event. To give you the best advice on how to proceed though, we would still want to know from you all of the relevant details and assist you in finding answers to any outstanding points for the form.
Whilst it may be tempting to think that the other person who is not paying for a lawyer is saving money in financial proceedings, what price can be put on peace of mind? Knowing you have specialist assistance in providing financial disclosure and preparing further documents ahead of court hearings, and that throughout the proceedings you have access to expert advice at each stage, is worth the outlay for many. And for those who don’t, mistakes in form filling may add time and expense to a case which will lead to fewer assets to divide in the end – so everyone loses.
Family solicitor, Bristol