On 6 April this year, family lawyers across the country welcomed the arrival of ’no fault’ divorce. The change marked a monumental shift as the new law no longer requires either of the parties to place blame on the other.
Whilst the change is very positive (and long overdue), the divorce process itself is just one element of the steps that couples going through a relationship breakdown will work through. Separating couples still need to reach an agreement and formalise their financial separation, and deal with the arrangements for any children. Reaching an agreement on these very important elements following separation can often lead to conflict, which is not swerved by the dawn of no fault divorce.
With that in mind, the following explores some of the professionals you should consider having on your team to protect you as much as possible from the stress and emotional cost that can run parallel with a decision to separate.
Your family lawyer
Most people associate involving lawyers with high conflict and litigation but that is not what early advice is about at all. Seeking early advice from a family lawyer, regardless of whether you and your spouse/partner are managing to communicate amicably, has a number of benefits.
During your initial meeting, your family lawyer can offer advice and the options available to you and your spouse to formalise arrangements following a separation. They can also signpost you towards other help and support that you might find useful during the process.
When it comes to the arrangements for any children, you don’t necessarily need a court order. However, it is always advised that you have a financial order drawn up setting out what you have agreed to do with your property, pensions, income and debts upon separation. Financial claims remain open indefinitely without a court order, so early advice about this is always recommended to make sure all the financial claims which flow from the end of the relationship are properly dealt with.
Your family lawyer can also signpost you towards other professionals to assist with reaching a financial settlement. This could be a chartered surveyor, to value property, a pension expert to advise on how to fairly deal with the pensions, a forensic accountant to advise on business valuations, accountants for tax advice etc.
Family lawyers can also advise on the different options available to reach agreement on the issues between you such as mediation, collaborative law, arbitration or the court process.
Going through a relationship breakdown can be tough mentally and emotionally. Speak to your GP if you are finding your feelings overwhelming or difficult to manage. They may need to refer you to specialist help.
One to one talking therapy for you as an individual
Many separating parties find real benefit in regular one to one talking therapy. A talking therapist who specialises in relationship breakdown can help you to gain insight and understanding regarding aspects of the relationship, and support you emotionally in coming to terms with the relationship ending.
Talking therapy takes many different forms and there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to determining who will be best for helping you. Below are a few examples of the more common talking therapists you might come across:
Relationship counsellor/family therapist
Relationship counselling can help you as a couple clarify some of the issues or problems in the relationship. There are occasions where speaking to a relationship counsellor can help couples re-establish their relationship and get things back on track. Sometimes, it helps the couple realise they are no longer compatible and that they need to separate.
Whatever the outcome, relationship counselling can help to improve communication between you and your spouse/partner so that you can enjoy a more positive relationship in the future. This is particularly important where you have children together and may be co-parenting into the foreseeable future.
Relationship counselling and/or family therapy can also be used to help separated families come together to improve communication. This can be particularly helpful where there are children involved and to help them understand the reasons why the relationship has broken down. Sessions with a family therapist can improve communication amongst the family as a whole; particularly if a relationship breakdown has caused a rift between the children and a parent.
Divorce coaches provide support to parties throughout the divorce process. The support a divorce coach can provide is wide ranging, but they can provide emotional support (using coaching and future focussed techniques to help you navigate the next steps in your life), help you to navigate the complexities of proceedings, for example, by assisting with completing your financial disclosure (when sorting out the finances), or help to prepare you for meetings with your family lawyer or for court so that you know what to expect. A divorce coach can talk you through how to make those meetings as efficient as possible and provide support for the more personal and non-legal issues which may crop up after a relationship ends. A divorce coach cannot give you legal advice.
Family mediator to help you reach agreement
Mediation is a voluntary process which you and your ex can participate in to try to resolve issues between you; it could be to agree on all of the financial aspects of your divorce, arrangements for your children or to reach agreement on more discrete issues such as schooling. It is a process which works when both parties are willing to communicate effectively, and helps you to reach agreement with the help of a neutral third party. The mediator’s role is to facilitate the discussion between you to help you come to an agreement together. The mediator is impartial, and they will not impose a decision on you. The mediator will not give either of you legal advice, but they can give legal information which you can use to help you navigate the negotiations during the process.
Mediation can often be a cost-effective way of resolving issues. Embarking on the mediation route does not mean that you will be without the benefit of legal advice. We would still recommend taking early advice from a family lawyer before starting mediation so that you are aware of the law and your options, and that you continue to take advice from your lawyer alongside the mediation process so you can reach an agreement that is in your and your family’s interests.
Where there are children involved, there is the option of child inclusive mediation. A suitably qualified mediator can speak with your child or children before the mediation session to understand their wishes and feelings. They can then feed that back to the parents during the mediation session. The purpose of child inclusive mediation is to ensure that the child’s voice is heard as part of the process.
Independent financial advisor (IFA)
You are not alone if the thought of a divorce or separation creates worry about your financial security and future. It may therefore be worth considering getting an independent financial advisor onboard to run through settlement options when you are negotiating the finances, to understand what that really means for you. Assistance from an IFA may be particularly useful to you if there is going to be a pension sharing order as part of any financial settlement, as they can help you with modelling your future finances to inform any proposals for settlement that you put forward as part of the negotiations process.
Private client lawyer for future wealth security
Once you and your partner have reached an agreement, and you have separated out your finances and agreed what the arrangements will be for your children, it is important that you update your will (or make one if you do not have one). It will be important therefore to speak to a private client lawyer who specialises in will writing to ensure that on your death, your assets are dealt in in accordance with your wishes. If your assets are complex and/or international you may need advice on appropriate structuring for your wealth once your divorce/dissolution is finalised, so the involvement of specialist private wealth tax and/or offshore legal expertise may be required.
Engaging specialists to implement the terms of your financial order
If you have reached an agreement where a property is to be sold or transferred, it is important that you instruct a conveyancer to deal with this on your behalf. Final orders made by the court usually include strict timescales for certain steps to be taken to transfer/sell property upon divorce, so engaging with those who can help you to implement the order once it has been made is important. Similarly, you may need input from a corporate lawyer if you have company assets, and/or to involve overseas advisers if you have international assets.
Your ongoing support team
Even after the legal aspect of a relationship breakdown is over, you may still benefit from using the services of the other professionals discussed above. It is often helpful to maintain a relationship with an independent financial advisor after the legal process is over to ensure your money continues to work for you as anticipated beyond separation. You may also find ongoing counselling beneficial once the dust has settled.
Your friends and family
Friends and family can be a huge source of emotional support during a relationship breakdown. However, you may find that their views are based on their own experience and circumstances, thus are unique to them. Just because it happened one way for them doesn’t mean it applies to you and your circumstances.
That said, friends and family are hugely important as you transition out of a relationship. Go out for dinner, plan a holiday and give yourself something to look forward to!
 Wyatt v Vince  UKSC 14