Your options for legal or financial advice on separation if you were living together

If you and your partner are separating, you might be able to sort everything out without using legal or other professional advice. But if your ex-partner won’t stick to what you’ve agreed, or you want to know what your rights are, it might be worth getting professional advice.

Using a mediator for separation

A mediator can help you and your ex-partner sort out children, housing and financial matters. They don’t take sides or give advice. Instead, they can help you work towards an agreement. More solicitors specialising in family law are now also trained mediators.

Mediation works best where you trust each other to be open and honest. If you and your ex-partner can’t talk about who should look after the children or how you’ll divide your money, mediation might not be suitable.

For most people, it is not now possible to get legal aid for divorce, separation or legal issues involving children but you may be able to get legal aid for mediation if you qualify. So if you and your ex-partner are willing to use it and your affairs are straightforward it can be a way of sorting things out between you.

Mediation is not appropriate where there has been domestic abuse – including where one partner is controlling or intimidating. If you have been a recent victim of domestic abuse you can apply for legal aid.

 A mediator will tell you whether your situation is suitable for mediation.

Pros and cons of mediation

  • It can be quicker and cheaper than a traditional lawyer-led divorce or dissolution. And couples can feel more in control of the agreement.
  • It’s flexible, so you can use it to agree some areas of your divorce or dissolution but not others.
  • All sessions are confidential. That means if you can’t reach agreement and go to court, your solicitor can’t use what’s been said in the sessions.
  • Mediators can’t give legal advice. That means it’s important to see a solicitor before you start mediation so you know your rights.
  • You will need a solicitor to draw up a legal agreement formalising anything you’ve agreed.

You may qualify for legal aid to support you. Find out more about mediation on the Citizens Advice website

How much is a mediator?

A Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting usually costs about £100-£200. If you need more sessions, they cost more. And fees can vary depending on where you live.

Find out more about fees on the Family Mediation Council website.

You might be able to get legal aid pay mediation to help costs, but it is means-tested.

Using a solicitor for separation

A solicitor can advise you on your rights if you want to make a claim against your ex-partner for a share of the family home or other assets. You can use them to:

  • give you independent legal advice – either if you’re negotiating a settlement through mediation or considering taking court action
  • negotiate on your behalf with your ex-partner’s solicitor
  • draw up a legal agreement, based on what you’ve agreed independently with your ex-partner.

Pros and cons of using a solicitor

  • A solicitor might give you information about your financial entitlement that you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. If your ex-partner won’t negotiate with you, using a solicitor might be more effective than trying to sort it out directly. Most solicitors offer fixed-fee services or capped rates, which can be cost effective.
  • A solicitor can be very expensive, although costs will vary depending on the law firm, where it’s based and how complicated your divorce or dissolution is.

You can find a solicitor:

Using arbitration

In family arbitration, you and your partner choose an arbitrator. They decide on financial and property disputes, or some child-related issues arising. The decision will be final and binding.

Family arbitration helps couples going through family breakdown to resolve disputes confidentially – that’s quicker, more flexible and less formal than a courtroom.

Using a collaborative family lawyer

Collaborative family lawyers can help you reach an agreement through a series of meetings with your ex-partner. You and your ex-partner will each hire your own collaborative family lawyer.

  • You all sign an agreement not to go to court.
  • You agree to work together to resolve the issues between you.
  • Meetings are usually face-to-face with all four of you present. During the coronavirus situation, many of these are via video conferencing.

Couples who live together don’t often use these lawyers as they can be expensive.

You can find a collaborative family lawyer:

Using an accountant

You can use an accountant to value assets – for example, a business.

Some accountants specialise in assessing whether someone is downplaying the value of a business they own. They’re called ‘forensic accountants’.

They’re experts in valuing businesses – which a lawyer wouldn’t usually have experience in. But they can be expensive.

You can find a chartered accountant:

Using an actuary

An actuary is a specialist who can provide an accurate valuation of a final salary or other salary-related pension.

If you were living together and then separate, you’re unlikely to use an actuary. This is because – unlike divorce or dissolution – one partner doesn’t have to share their pension with the other.

But if you want your pension to be taken into account when dividing assets, an actuary might be useful – depending on the type of pension.

You can find an actuary on the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries website.

Using a financial adviser

A financial adviser can help you divide your assets in the most tax-efficient way. They can also advise you on investing the proceeds of a house sale or similar.

You’ll have to pay for their services – usually an hourly rate or a fixed fee. If your finances are complicated and you have joint assets, their specialist advice and expertise might be especially.

Or, for financial advisers based in England or Wales who are accredited as experts in separation, go to the Resolution website

If you separate and aren’t married or in a civil partnership, you still might have to pay legal fees.

If you can’t pay them from your savings or income, find out what your options are in our guide How to pay legal fees when you separate if you were cohabiting.

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Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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