A number of recent cases involving divorce solicitors, particularly in London, have attracted attention over the issue of contentious litigation and accompanying disproportionate costs. For example, during a recent divorce case, Daga v Bangur  EWFC 91, Justice Holman spoke of the ill effects of "destructive litigation" and its power to diminish the assets of divorcing parties.
The case focused on a husband's claim for a lump sum financial settlement worth between £1 million and £1.5 million.
The judge described it as "tragic" that the divorcing parties had spent more than £1 million on legal costs: around £380,000 on litigation related to child arrangements and a further £650,000 spent on litigation relating to the divorce financial settlement.
The judge noted that the latter sum alone "could have made a very large contribution to the purchase cost of the sort of flat the husband now aspires to buy"; his spending on rental costs was, at the time, around £30,000 a year.
The judge also noted that the husband's net annual income of £130,000 was equivalent to many of the most senior roles in the legal profession, including the Master of the Rolls (£125,000) and the Lord Chief Justice (£140,000). Furthermore, as the husband was spending around only £15,000 a year on his son, this left him, after rent, with around £85,000 each year, "which happens to be about the same as the entire net income from salary of a senior circuit judge".
Holman J ordered a clean break divorce settlement with no capital payment from the wife.
Furthermore, Holman J noted that the husband's savings had "been wiped out" by the cost of litigation and that each party had now incurred "considerable debts".
Keeping Costs Proportionate
No one wants an expensive divorce and parties to a divorce should be capable of seeing the sense in keeping costs proportionate, not only for the sake of economy, but also from the perspective of reducing contention, inconvenience and preserving the interests of any children involved.
A contentious divorce is only likely to waste money, foster resentment and leave a sour taste in everyone's mouths.
Having said that, there will always be financial implications when a marriage or long-term relationship ends, but there are ways to help keep costs, and acrimony, down. Non-contentious routes such as mediation and negotiation are, in many instances, possible ways to achieve something approaching an amicable resolution.
For the 42 per cent of UK marriages that conclude in divorce, the legal costs are rising, with wealthier parties almost invariably paying more. And with family judges making it clear that unreasonable and protracted litigation will meet with the court's disapproval, it's a good time to try to understand how divorcing parties can keep costs down during a divorce case.
Keep Cool at the Crucial Moments
Although it is unrealistic to expect divorcing parties to remain 100% calm and reasonable throughout the divorce process, it is crucial to be able to stay cool when it matters. Yes, it can be hard not to become overly-emotional, but by being as objective as possible, you are reducing the scope for contention and mutual recrimination.
TOP TIP – Avoid calling or emailing your divorce solicitor when you are feeling wronged, angry or resentful, and especially after you have had a few glasses of wine! Divorce is of course a stressful process, but it is one you are legally obliged to get through once commenced, so the more pragmatic view you can take, the less trouble, both emotionally and financially, it is likely to cause you in the long run.
Remember that Your Divorce Lawyer is Your Divorce Lawyer
You will inevitably feel some emotion when discussing your legal options with your divorce lawyer and although they should be sympathetic to your situation, remember that you are not there for emotional and psychological support – this role is to be fulfilled by your friends, family and/or therapist or counsellor.
TOP TIP – Keep meetings with your divorce solicitor as business-like as possible. Your solicitor will be charging you for every minute you talk about how your ex's bad habits have impacted on your life. Keep meetings focused on specific divorce matters to help keep costs down.
You can create unnecessary confusion if you go into the divorce process without a detailed knowledge of your own financial circumstances.
TOP TIP – When you first sit down with your divorce solicitor, you should already be fully aware of your own assets, income, outgoings and wider financial interests. The clearer and more transparent you are from the outset, the sooner things are likely to be resolved.
Find a Fixed Fee Divorce Lawyer
If the arrangement is suitable for your circumstances, you can agree a fixed fee in advance of your divorce case. This means that you will at least know how much the service will cost. This allows you to budget accurately, ensuring costs do not spiral out of control.
TOP TIP – If your financial circumstances are complex, involving significant wealth and assets and/or business interests, a fixed fee arrangement may not be suitable.
Try a Non-Contentious Route
Since 2014, all divorcing couples in England and Wales have been obliged to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before seeking any Court order relating to children, finances or division of property on divorce.
Mediation and other alternative dispute resolution processes can be a more conciliatory and respectful approach to reaching an agreement in divorce cases and can be cheaper than litigation. Mediators do not tell you what to do, but instead listen to both parties' viewpoints and help you see areas where an agreement could be reached.
Undertaking Mediation does not mean you will be without legal advice; this remains an essential part of the process whichever route you take for your divorce and your solicitor will be able to advise you as to whether any agreement put forward in mediation is right for you.
TOP TIP – To keep costs down, it can be useful to explore the possibility of family mediation. Nowadays, all divorce solicitors in London, and even those in the farthest-flung reaches of the country, should have some experience of mediation. Talk to your lawyer at the earliest opportunity about their ability to connect you with a qualified mediator who can help you clarify your interests and options.
Wait for a Fresh Start
However tempting it may be to move on and move in with a new partner, it may be worth waiting until your divorce financial settlement is finalised. New relationships can be a significant source of acrimony in litigated divorce and have the potential to create an extra bone of contention and stream of additional legal fees.
TOP TIP – Property purchases and other financial transactions made during the divorce process can impact upon the outcome of your financial settlement and potentially ramp up the legal costs. If you are going to make any financial decisions in this respect, you should have frank discussions with your lawyer before signing on any dotted lines.
Recognise a Fair Deal
Recognising when you have a reasonable and fair offer is an invaluable skill. Asking for more after being offered a reasonable settlement may only serve to undermine your interests and increase your own legal costs.
Recent cases, as highlighted above, have shown that family judges take a dim view of parties who seek to prolong litigation and any award made by the court may not necessarily be a better deal.
TOP TIP: Listen to your divorce solicitor: knowing when to stop is an essential part of keeping costs proportionate.
Help from Oratto
Oratto's member divorce lawyers are able to help you reach a fair financial settlement wherever you live.
Talk to us today about how we can help you achieve some clarity and certainty regarding the costs of a divorce service that is both highly professional and highly effective.