When you separate, the first question you ask is, “where do we start?” With a huge amount of advice being given to you by friends and family, it is hard to know where to begin. Do you see a lawyer, mediator, mortgage adviser, financial planner, counsellor, divorce coach? Where do you start? We will walk you through a route that you could take to get you through your divorce calmly and amicably. Most importantly, you will be looking after you and your wellbeing, so that you can start your New Chapter in the best possible place.
When you first separate, there seems to be a race on to get everything done as soon as possible. Your friends and family will be asking whether you have spoken to a lawyer and shouldn’t you get on with that. They will be well meaning in their ideas about where you might live, who will have the children and when.
But this is your divorce, and you will probably be feeling a sense of fear and overwhelm. It is really important not to rush into anything. The lawyers that we work with will suggest that you take your time, especially if they see that you are struggling emotionally. You could take days, weeks or months before you feel ready to take the next step. You need to be able to think clearly to make the best decisions.
Get Emotional Support
Getting emotional support early is vital. It is a step often missed out. However, not sorting your own emotions out early can push you back further and could result in you needing help for longer or way after your divorce is complete. Making decisions in a state of heightened emotions will lead to poor outcomes. You only get one shot at getting this right and you need to be in the best place possible to do so.
In the UK, we aren’t good at admitting to having counselling or seeing a therapist. However, in my podcast series “Real Divorce Stories” we interviewed people who had been through divorce and achieved a successful, amicable outcome and all of them had emotional support. We may feel that it is a sign of weakness, but in reality, getting help is more a sign of strength. It takes courage to look inside yourself and see that there is a problem.
In terms of who you see, it is important that you find someone that you are completely comfortable with. Recommendations are always a good idea (I’m going to say this a lot!). We can introduce you to some wonderful people who will be able to help, just ask.
Choose your Family Lawyer
I would suggest that the next step should be choosing a family lawyer. Even if you are keen to go down the route of mediation, it is a good idea to have the right legal advice selected. Some family lawyers will offer a guide as to the bracket of financial settlements that you are likely to be looking within before you attend mediation.
How do you select the right person for you:
- Ask for recommendations – Talk to friends who have been through divorce and find out what they thought of their lawyer. It is worth remembering that the person recommending may well have different requirements to you.
- Look for someone who has the same ethos as you – If you are keen to achieve an amicable settlement between you, then opting for a lawyer who talks about court is probably not a good idea.
- Do your research – Look at the company websites, the lawyer’s individual bio, their social media posts. Make sure they speak your language and help people to separate in the way you want to.
- Talk to them – Have a conversation with the people you shortlist and make sure that you get on. Your lawyer will be your voice through the divorce and so you need to know that they will represent you in the way you wish.
We work with a number of carefully selected family lawyers. Please ask if you would like us to make a recommendation.
Work with a Mediator
A mediator will help you to have open discussions with your spouse or partner about the areas which you need to make decisions about, offering an unbiased voice. They work with you both to make sure issues are resolved before they escalate into insurmountable disagreements.
You may wish to work with a mediator to help you to resolve one particular area, such as arrangements for the children or dividing the finances, or you might want to involve a mediator because you don’t know where to start.
Choosing a mediator to work with should be done in the same way as choosing a lawyer:
- Ask for recommendations – Talk to friends who have been through divorce. It is worth remembering that the person recommending may well have different requirements to you.
- Do your research – Look at the company websites, their individual bio, their social media posts. Make sure they speak your language and help people to separate in the way you want to.
- Talk to them – Have a conversation with the people you shortlist and make sure that you BOTH get on with the person you choose.
We work with a number of carefully selected mediators and would be happy to recommend them. Please get in touch if this would help.
Sort Your Finances
While you are working with a family lawyer or mediator, you may find that you need some additional support from a financial planner, particularly if you were not the money person in your relationship or the finances are complicated, including pensions, investments, perhaps spousal maintenance, or significant assets.
Financial planners can help in many ways throughout your divorce journey, from helping you to gather your financial information, working out what you need from the marital pot, understanding what the proposed settlement means for your lifestyle, implementing pension sharing orders, to giving you peace of mind and clarity about your future and planning your new chapter.
When you are looking for the right person for you to work with, arrange a discovery call to find out how they can help you and make sure that you are comfortable working with them and vice versa. Some advisers will work with both parties and some with only individuals. As with family lawyers and mediators, do your research and ensure that what they say on social media and on their website speaks to you. Also, choose a divorce specialist, who has experience of dealing with the issues that you have, rather than someone who covers all areas.
We would be delighted to have an initial chat with you to see if we are the right people for you. If not, we can signpost someone who would be more appropriate.
Understand Your Mortgage Potential
When you are looking at moving from one home to two, it is important to understand how much you could borrow. This could impact the way in which you agree to divide your finances to ensure that you both have a suitable home for you and the children, if they are still at home.
One of you may wish to remain in the family home. Are they able to not only take on the outstanding mortgage but also buy the other spouse out or ensure they have funds for a deposit from other savings or investments?
If you are planning to sell the family home, how much can you each borrow? Can one of you continue with your existing mortgage in order to reduce the costs, if the mortgage has early repayment charges?
You can speak to your bank or current lender for an assessment as to how much you can borrow and the potential cost of that. However, I would suggest that you speak to an independent mortgage broker. They can look at lenders across the mortgage market and may be able to secure a higher level of borrowing, if that is important and affordable, or a lower interest rate. They will be likely to charge a fee for their service, but this is often not paid until the mortgage is secured for you.
We work with a number of carefully selected mortgage brokers. Please get in touch if you would like a recommendation.
Back to Your Lawyer
Hopefully, you will now be at a point where you have agreed how your finances will be divided, any maintenance to be paid and, if you have children living at home, how they will divide their time.
Your lawyer will then help you to file for divorce, if this has not already been done. There are currently 5 facts from which you need to choose one: Desertion, separated for 5 years, separated for 2 years where both parties agree, adultery and unreasonable behaviour. It is likely that most of these will not apply to your circumstances and so it may be easy to work out which one to opt for. If you opt for Unreasonable Behaviour, your lawyer should guide you as to what to include and what to exclude, or you could agree this with your soon to be ex. You don’t need a huge, long list of ever minutiae that the other person has ever done. All of this should change in the autumn of this year when No Fault Divorce comes in, but for many couples, that it too long to wait.
Once you have filed for your divorce, your lawyer will draw up the Financial Settlement into a consent order and put the same before the court applying for things such as a clean break or Pension Sharing Orders. These will then be submitted to the court to be reviewed by a judge, who will check that it is fair once you have a Decree Nisi. Assuming it is, they will stamp and return it to you.
As long as 6 weeks and a day have passed since the Decree Nisi was granted, you can apply for the Decree Absolute. Once this is received, you are formally divorced. However, you still need to make sure that any financial agreement is implemented.
Implementing your Orders – Pension Sharing Orders
Once you have received your Pension Sharing Orders, you need to implement them. Your financial planner will be able to help you to do this.
For the pension sharing order, your options will depend on the type of pension being shared. For some defined benefit schemes, for example, the NHS scheme or the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, the only option you will have is an “internal” share. This means that you will become a member of the scheme and your share will be transferred into your membership for you to access when you reach retirement.
You may only have the option of an “external” share, which is commonly the case with private sector defined benefit schemes and also defined contribution pension schemes. With an external pension, you will need to have a pension in your name that can accept the pension share. This may be possible to an existing scheme that you have or you may need to set up a new personal pension. At this point, your financial planner will let you know which you need to do. They will also review your existing pensions to ensure that they are still the most suitable, cost efficient plans for you.
In these types of pensions, the money held inside them is invested. Your financial planner will explain this to you and will assess your attitude to investment risk. They will then recommend a suitable portfolio of investments for the pension share.
Finally, you might have the choice of an internal or external share. You will need to take advice on which option to choose. The local government schemes offer this choice.
Once you have decided with your financial planner’s help, where your pension share should be transferred, you will submit application forms, along with the court forms to the provider who will receive the share. The scheme subject to the share should have already been notified by receipt of the form A prior to the Pension Sharing Order being granted. The court should also have sent (or instructed one of the parties to send) a copy of the Decree Absolute, the relevant order and the pension sharing annex to the pension provider. The order will take effect on the later of the Decree Absolute or 28 days after the order was made.
The pension provider who will be sending the share to your selected pension, for external pension shares, will have 4 months to implement this from the date they receive all the necessary documents. The pension will be valued at a date during this period.
If you have been granted a pension sharing order that needs to be implemented or are expecting to be granted one shortly, and need some help, please contact me.
Implementing your Orders – Lump Sum Order
You may be in a position where, rather than receiving ongoing maintenance, you have received a “lump sum order”. The amount of maintenance that would have been due has been paid in a calculated lump sum up front.
It is important to understand how you will use these funds. You will need to know what your initial capital needs are, such as buying a house or paying a rental deposit, if the marital home has been sold, purchasing furniture or equipping a new home. You will also need to assess the shortfall between your income and expenditure each year so that you can understand how the capital sum will need to be used. It is assumed when these sums are calculated that they will be invested and therefore generate an investment return to ensure that they last the required time. You will need to understand how that might work and how to invest the funds to ensure they don’t run out, leaving you with a shortfall.
If you would like some help to look at how best to use your lump sum, please arrange an initial call.
Planning your future
During your relationship, did you have to compromise? It might have been small things such as where you went out to eat or what takeaway you got. But it might have been bigger things, such as not working late, even though that extra couple of hours would have reduced your own anxiety. It’s difficult until you come through the pain of divorce to see positives but one of them is that compromising your own plans, hopes and dreams is no longer a necessity.
So, where do you start? It can be difficult to see past the immediate future when you have been through a relationship breakdown.
You may simply want to concentrate on buying a house initially or getting a handle on paying bills, etc possibly for the first time. However, once things settle down, you will start to be able to open your mind to things you would like to do, see or achieve for yourself. You might want to start with what you don’t want, such as I don’t want to have to sell my home and downsize, I don’t want to have to work full time, I don’t want to have to work past 60 or I don’t want to holiday in a tent ever again! As time passes, your mind will begin to open to the possibilities, and you will be able to start to think about things you do want to do.
As lifestyle financial planners, we can help you to start to see the future. Initially, we ease you into the process, helping you see what life might look like now, giving you clarity about your current future. We will work with you as your mind begins to open to help you to achieve everything you want. If we can help put you in this position, please book a free initial call.