Need To See A Solicitor? What Can You Expect?

first meeting with solicitorThe time has come to see a solicitor. You’ve arranged a first meeting. What can you expect?

You can expect expert legal advice targeted to your particular circumstances. You can expect your questions to be answered (if you can, try and narrow down exactly what you want to find out by making a few notes beforehand).

Your solicitor will understand that difficult things may be happening in your life, and that making an appointment to see a solicitor is a big step. Your solicitor is there with all their years of experience to help you, and you are guaranteed a sympathetic and caring listener.

Choose The Right Solicitor …

One meeting with an expert family law solicitor may be all you need for now, or it might be the first step on a long journey. Whichever it is, make sure you chose the right solicitor, a member of Resolution. Check on the Resolution website.

Resolution’s 6,500 members follow a code of practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems. They encourage solutions that consider the needs of the whole family – and in particular the best interests of children.

When Making The Appointment

Make sure to say if it’s an emergency because your solicitor will try to slot you in for an early appointment. For example does it involve:

·     child abduction

·     domestic abuse

·     the risk of your partner disposing of assets to stop you making a claim against them?

Make sure you know exactly what the meeting is going to cost you – whether this is nothing in the case of a free discussion, or a fixed fee as agreed in advance.

Just Family Law offers a free 20 minutes telephone conversation. You’d be surprised the amount of ground that can be covered.

Alternatively there are fixed price meetings for half an hour or an hour. It’s up to you.

Remember your meeting with your solicitor is completely confidential. No one need ever know you’ve sought legal advice. Although you are of course welcome to bring a friend or family member with you as support.

How A Family Solicitor Can Help You …

·     Maybe you’ve decided your relationship is at an end

·     Maybe you need advice about the children, or the finances

·     Maybe you’re an older couple and worried about the affect of marriage breakdown on your pension

·     Maybe one or both of you were born abroad, settled in this country and now hope to return home. What does this mean for the children?

But it’s not all just about relationship breakdown. In the early stages of a relationship you might want a cohabitation agreement or a prenuptial agreement, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Or perhaps your relationship broke down years ago and a query has now come up about the children. Maybe you or your partner want to take the children and relocate within the country, or abroad.

How Can I Help You? …

The guiding light of your first meeting with your solicitor is what you want to achieve from it – the advice, information and support you need. This is what your solicitor will focus on.

It could be that you’ve spent a great deal of time searching on the internet and you’re up to speed with the sorts of issues involved and you just need some fine tuning.

On the other hand you could be reeling from the breakdown of your relationship, unsure of what to do next, uncertain about what the future holds. You could have a particular and urgent concern. For example, the children. How can you tell them what’s happened? How will they cope? Where will they live? I have discussed in an earlier post how separating parents can help their children.

Or you might suspect that your partner is planning to sell or hide valuable assets so you can’t claim against them.

Or it could be that your partner is abusive and you are frightened.

So the first thing you need to do is communicate to your solicitor exactly what it is you want to achieve from this first meeting.

But before you come to the meeting please do provide any information that has been requested. Proof of identity is something that all solicitors have to ask for, just like banks and building societies. And if you’re asked to provide information about your family, or about the family finances in preparation for the meeting, or to fill in a questionnaire, this is to provide your solicitor with some background information so that the advice given you can be tailored to your needs. And remember, this is all totally in confidence.

Another way of looking at is that you’re in a maelstrom of events and you’re reaching out for help. Your solicitor will be able to give you the help you need, and it’s important that both you and your solicitor focus on what it is you need to talk about, here and now. But in the background it’s important that your solicitor has a broader view, even if at the moment it’s not possible or necessary to go into tremendous detail – that can follow.

You arrive at your solicitor’s office. A much anticipated first meeting. All your focus is on the here and now, what can your solicitor do to help you at this difficult and painful stage?

Will It Be A Load Of Confusing Legal Jargon? …

Definitely not.

If you’re feeling distressed and confused the last thing you need is great chunks of advice about issues that aren’t at the top of your list of priorities. Your solicitor will address your specific questions and answer them, and in a digestible way, and will of course understand that it’s a lot for you to take on board.

I like to make a plan at the end of a first meeting. It may be that you need to take action, gather information or documents, or talk to someone else before we meet again. If necessary these actions can be broken down into steps so that they’re easy to follow.

At the end of the meeting when all your concerns have been discussed, expect to be handed informative leaflets or fact sheets, or to be referred to helpful websites to assist you to come to terms with what is happening and what to do next.

Specialist family law firms offer solutions to assist you reach agreement with your partner without recourse to the courts such as collaborative law and mediation. They can also refer you to required and complementary services such as counselling, coaching, financial, pension advice to help with relationships and their breakdown.

Food For Thought …

Your discussions and the advice you’ve been given can be confirmed in writing – a good idea if you have decisions to make and you want to mull the whole situation over.

You may fear that your partner or family members will notice an email or a letter from a solicitor. In which case you can suggest to your solicitor another more secure postal or email address. Or alternatively you can collect the letter.

The Cost …

The all important question of the expense of any action required on your behalf will be addressed. Solicitors are bound by professional rules to tell you their hourly rate and to give you an estimate of how much the work will cost.

Often there are various options for dealing with your situation. You will be informed of all the choices open to you and how much they’re likely to cost because it’s important for you to make an informed decision before moving to the next stage.

Sometimes it’s possible to agree a fixed fee for the work required.

So that’s what you can expect from a first meeting with a solicitor

·     expert legal advice targeted to your particular circumstances

·     your questions to be answered. If you can, try and narrow down exactly what you want to find out by making a few notes beforehand

·     make sure you choose the right solicitor, a member of Resolution. Check on the Resolution website.

·     when you make the appointment make sure to say if it’s an emergency because your solicitor will try to slot you in for an early appointment.

·     your meeting with your solicitor is completely confidential. No one need ever know you’ve sought legal advice.

What do you look for when you are consulting a solicitor? We would love to hear your thoughts on this question – please do leave us a comment.

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JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family law solicitors offering personalised legal solutions.

Visit our website just-family-law.com

The topics covered in this blog post are complex and are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog might have application to you, you should seek expert legal advice.

image by ORBIX on wikimedia

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The Myth of Common Law Marriage

common law marriage
Photo by Matthew G on Flickr

    Does ‘Common Law Marriage’ actually exist?

The number of cohabiting couples has doubled over the last twenty years and a popular misconception that seems to lose none of its force is that of ‘common law marriage’. If only such an institution really did exist. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had to break the sad news to that it doesn’t. The fact remains that married couples and civil partners have rights that cohabitees can only dream of.

A recent Parliamentary review, ‘Common Law Marriage and Cohabitation’ (Briefing Paper no. 03372, 9 February 2016) has helpfully looked at all the issues and let’s hope one day Parliament will provide a modicum of protection to cohabitees in England and Wales (cohabitees in Scotland and Northern Ireland already have some rights although not as extensive as those of married couples and civil partners). But, in the meantime, what are the risks?

    The cohabitation minefield

To put it in perspective let’s see how the law protects married couples or civil partners. If they split up, or if one of them dies without making a Will, there is legal machinery in place for dealing with any difficult questions that arise. If you are a cohabitee and your relationship ends or your partner dies you can, literally, find yourself out in the cold.

Why is that? I will give you an example. Imagine a married couple or civil partners living in their shared home. If they divorce all their matrimonial assets, including their shared home, are truly up for grabs. The starting place for division is a fifty/fifty split but certain circumstances are taken into consideration, such as the needs of any children. So the idea is to get a fair outcome regardless of who owns what on paper.

    Cohabitees can end up with nothing

But if cohabitees split up, what happens to their shared home if it is in only one of the cohabitees’ names? The answer is that the other cohabitee has no legal right to a share in the net proceeds. But what if it was always understood to be their joint home, or what if the non-owning cohabitee sunk a lot of money into the purchase of the property or its improvement? Unless they can negotiate a share by, for example, turning to mediation or collaborative law, or they are successful in a complicated and expensive application to the court, the non-owning cohabitee could come away with nothing.

    What happens to the children if cohabitees separate?

 At least the law is fair when it comes to the children of cohabitees. The court procedures and the law are exactly the same when it comes to the emotive and important issues of where the children are going to live and who they are going to see. And of course it’s better to try and reach an agreement yourselves or to try mediation or collaborative law rather than to go to court.

And the Child Maintenance Service (the Child Support Agency) is there to help if the absent parent isn’t paying up, regardless of whether the parents are married or not.

There are special provisions under Schedule 1 of the Children Act for parents to apply to the court for a range of orders for maintenance, lump sum and property orders where there are children to be supported. These provisions are complicated and you would really need to obtain legal advice about them.

    The importance of making a Will

What happens if a cohabitee dies? Hopefully there is a Will, and it provides a fair share of the deceased’s estate to the survivor. But what if there is no Will? If there is no Will the deceased’s estate is divided under the intestacy rules none of which mention a surviving cohabitee. In other words the surviving cohabitee can come away with nothing in which case another complicated and expensive application to the court is required.

    Are you entitled to benefit under your cohabitee’s pension?

Finally, if you live together make sure you know your entitlement to your partner’s pension. A surviving cohabitee might be entitled to benefits under a late partner’s pension scheme but it is not guaranteed.

    Is a Cohabitation Agreement the answer?

It’s always a good idea to have a cohabitation agreement because at the very least this will help you focus on all the issues. But such an agreement isn’t binding in court proceedings and this is particularly the case if there is a change in circumstances such as the arrival of children. So please make sure you regularly review your cohabitation agreement with your solicitor.

    In at nutshell:

There is no such thing as common law marriage

  • Ownership of your shared home can be a legal minefield
  • Update your Wills regularly
  • Children of separating cohabitees are treated almost the same but there are significant differences
  • Would you be entitled to your late partner’s pension?
  • Consider getting a cohabitation agreement and regularly updating it.

Link to ‘Common Law Marriage and Cohabitation’ (Briefing Paper no. 03372, 9 February 2016)

Do you think that there should be more protection for cohabiting couples? We would love to hear from you with your opinion so please leave us a comment.

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Photo under a Creative Commons Licence

JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family law solicitors offering personalised legal solutions.

Visit our website just-family-law.com

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