When faced with a divorce, there are many things that you will worry about, from your children to your finances to your now uncertain future. Another major worry will be the cost of the separation process. You know money will be tight as the two incomes that have previously jointly supported your household, now need to be able to support you both separately. You try to think of ways to save money and you think about representing yourself in the legal process. You and your spouse are completely entitled to agree terms for a divorce and apply to the Court to have it ruled on consent.
While representing yourself in Court might sound like a great way to save some money, representing yourself in Court when examined more closely, can come with many risks.
As discussed in previous articles, in order to get divorced in Ireland, there are three constitutional obligations that the Court must follow. The Court will only grant your divorce when these three conditions are met:
- That the parties must be living apart for two out of the previous three years,
- That there is no prospect of reconciliation and
- That proper provision has been provided for both parties.
This sounds straightforward. You’re thinking: yes, we have been separated for two years, there is no prospect of reconciliation and we are in complete agreement on all issues. What could possibly go wrong?
As family lawyers we hear this from time to time. Many people can view a divorce as simple and straightforward, but many divorce cases can become complicated and protracted due to the Courts need to ensure proper provision. Proper provision is a complex legal principle and one that cannot ever be overlooked. (read more about Proper Provision here https://www.wolfe.ie/what-is-proper-provision/) Even though you and your spouse may appear to be in agreement, how can you be sure that you are not actually getting less than what you may be legally entitled to? Will the Court assess it as proper provision? What might at first glance seem reasonable to both parties, might in fact be an unbalanced agreement which weighs heavily in one person’s favour or does not reflect the true contribution each party made to the marriage. In many families, while one spouse worked for the duration of the marriage, the other stayed at home to care for the children. This technically speaking means one spouse financially contributed more to the marriage. However, the Court will wish to rebalance this under Section 20 of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996. You must ask yourself if you have the expertise to factor in any future difficulties or potential liabilities? Do you have the ability to think long term and will you have the expertise to shield you from any future claims? Are you being unduly pressurised by your spouse to agree to something that feels unbalanced?
People often think of the family home as being the primary asset of a family. The value of a family home is caveated by the existence of a substantial mortgage, so the net value of the property can be less than first thought. An often overlooked asset in a divorce can be the pension entitlements of one or each spouse. In contrast to a family home, pensions can grow to be worth quite a bit. For example, if a spouse’s pension averaged €500 to €1,000 a month in contributions over the last 25 years, the fund could potentially be worth close to €500,000 now. A whole host of legal issues can therefore arise when dealing with pensions and these can prove challenging to manage. If you don’t have this expertise, you may be setting yourself up for trouble.
People oftentimes believe they have a solid agreement with their spouse but on further examination, that agreement can be full of omissions or does not provide proper provision for both spouses.
It is understandable that you want to save money and saving on legal costs might seem like the easy option, but to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your spouse going forwards, it is essential to have the expertise to research the relevant laws and gather the requisite documentation. Divorce lawyers will not only be thinking short term, they will be using long term strategic thinking to ensure that your future is protected.
Whilst it might seem like a good idea to get divorced without a lawyer, on closer inspection such a move can be very risky and costly to yourself. Separations can be very complex, and if done incorrectly, can be very costly in the long term. The Courts are meticulous and ensure that all procedures are followed to the very last detail. If you leave anything out in error, you could soon find yourself back to square one having to re-file and serve the documents.
So, you have decided that you are not going to risk going it alone and you want to speak with a solicitor. One of your first questions will be in relation to the costs. Lawyers are obliged under the Legal Services Regulatory Act 2015 to ensure that legal costs are transparent and are set out in a clear manner at the start of every case. It is important to stress that every case is different. At your first meeting with Wolfe & Co LLP Solicitors, we will give you an estimate of the likely legal costs for your case based on the various scenarios which might occur. If your divorce is very straightforward, no pensions are involved and everything is agreed before coming to us then it is likely that your costs for a divorce would be very reasonable. The more complicated and time consuming your divorce is, the more it will cost. If early agreement is not possible then your costs will increase. Going to Court will increase costs further. Wolfe & Co LLP Solicitors are firm believers that it is in every client’s best interest to make a fair settlement at the earliest opportunity rather than get involved in expensive protracted Court appearances.
To give you an idea of the legal costs involved, most solicitors will charge an hourly rate. A straightforward divorce case in which there is clear prior agreement and does not involve complex property or pensions issues may vary from legal costs of €3,500 upwards. If, however a significant amount of negotiation and Court appearances are necessary then the associated costs will rise. For a contentious divorce ultimately played out in Court, legal costs can reach between €15,000 and €20,000. It is important to remember that on top of legal costs, there will also be associated costs such as outlay, expert fees and VAT. In truth, the higher the conflict between the parties, the higher the costs are likely to be.
The question you need to ask yourself is: Do you have the expertise to spot the pitfalls and ensure that you are receiving a fair and appropriate settlement? If not, you can put your mind at ease by engaging a divorce lawyer who will ensure that every last detail of your case is thoroughly analyzed.
Wolfe & Co LLP have a wealth of experience in family law and are available for any questions that you have.
By Aislinn Collins Solicitor.
This article is for general information purposes/general overview only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. We recommend seeking legal advice to interpret and advise on any aspect of the law.
October 2023 Wolfe & Co. LLP Solicitors