One Couple One Lawyer allows separating couples to take expert legal advice from one impartial lawyer, rather than having to instruct one (or more) each. The couple is advised together as to what a Court would view as fair in their circumstances, in respect of the arrangements for their children or division of their finances.
Solicitors cannot give legal advice to couples together due to their conflict rules, but barristers have different regulations and can do so.
Sharing a lawyer on divorce is actually very common in other European countries but has only relatively recently become available in England. Solicitors cannot give legal advice to couples together due to their conflict rules, but barristers have different regulations and can do so. It was this discovery that led two family law barristers, Samantha Woodham and Harry Gates, to set up The Divorce Surgery in 2017, the first regulated law firm in the country which enabled couples to share a lawyer on divorce.
Is One Couple One Lawyer right for me?
First, you both need to agree that you are interested in exploring this as an option, as it is a service which can only be accessed by separating couples together.
In deciding, it is worth bearing in mind the following:
- Reduced Conflict: One Couple One Lawyer services take a unique approach to divorce. If you proceed, you are supported to work together in a completely transparent way. You do not argue your ‘case’ so much as co-operate to discover what a fair outcome looks like for both of you.
- Speed: One Couple One Lawyer processes are very streamlined because the lawyer can work with you both at the same time. If finances are the issue, the process usually takes 6-8 weeks (which includes completing your Form E disclosure and receiving the legal advice). If the matter concerns your children the process usually takes around 4 weeks (which includes a joint session with both a co-parenting expert and a specialist family law barrister).
- Fixed cost: Because the service is streamlined, it can operate on fixed fees rather than hourly rates. This means that you know the full cost of the service before you commit, and you can share that cost between you. At The Divorce Surgery, fees start at £2,375 plus VAT per person for the entire service.
- Choice: You will be given a shortlist of specialist family law barristers who have the necessary experience for your particular situation. You then choose who advises you and when. Sessions can be in person or remote, depending on your preference.
- Privacy: The process is completely private and confidential.
- Rigorous: The process is streamlined but the financial disclosure you will each need to provide will be the same Form E format as if you were going to Court. So whilst this is a process which aims to cut out conflict, it is important to flag that it does not cut corners when it comes to financial disclosure. In more complex cases, you will have two meetings with your advising barrister, one to review your disclosure and one to receive the legal advice as to what a Court would view as fair. If your barrister does not consider he/she has full and frank financial disclosure you will be unable to progress to the advice stage.
- Regulated: It is important to know the difference between regulated and unregulated providers. If you are seeking joint legal advice, this can only be given by practising barristers who are regulated by the Bar Standards Board and have professional indemnity insurance in place. There are other providers, such as divorce coaches, who can support you together through the process but are not qualified to give legal advice.
Suitability: Not all separating couples are suitable for One Couple One Lawyer services. For that reason, you will each have individual screening sessions before the service is offered to you. The three key red flags are as follows:
- If there is an abuse dynamic such that you wouldn’t feel safe in a joint process.
- If one of you believes the other will be dishonest in their financial disclosure.
- If you are not agreed that English law should determine the legal consequences of your separation (for instance because one of you would like to explore the possibility of getting divorced abroad).
Non-binding: A One Couple One Lawyer service will not impose a decision on you both. Rather, your barrister will tell you both, together, what a Court is likely to consider fair. This is followed by a detailed written advice. You are then able to negotiate constructively knowing what a Court would view as fair. Research has shown that couples find it much easier to live with an outcome which they have agreed, rather than one which is imposed on them. However, if you are looking for a decision to be imposed on both of you then this is not the right process, and you should consider either arbitration or Court proceedings.
What preparation should I do?
The first step is for you and your ex-partner to explore websites of regulated providers of One Couple One Lawyer services. Currently The Divorce Surgery (www.thedivorcesurgery.co.uk) is the only regulated service provider but this will no doubt change over time.
If interested, you can book in for a free Guidance call to find out more.
The next step would be for you and your ex-partner to book in for separate Introductory Sessions with a barrister, to analyse the legal issues in the case and ensure your suitability for a joint service. You will be asked to complete some detailed questionnaires before the meetings. These Introductory Sessions are charged at £250 plus VAT each, which is then deductible from the cost of the service if you decide to proceed.
If you are suitable, you will then both be sent an email setting out the fee for the service, the proposed timescale and a selection of suitable barristers. You can then decide whether to take it forward or not.
If you are a separating couple who fundamentally just want to reach a fair outcome in respect of the division of your finances and/or arrangements for your children, a One Couple One Lawyer service is a very streamlined and cost-effective way of getting expert legal advice but cutting out the conflict of a two-sided process.
Posted on March 26, 2021