Do you need a solicitor to sort out your finances and prepare a consent order when you divorce? And if so, how much does it cost? That was a question posed by Nicola on a recent webinar we held.
The first thing to point out is that divorce and financials are two separate things. Divorce is the legal ending of the marriage, and that’s all it does. It doesn’t sever your finances, and many people are surprised by that. They think everything, including finances, are resolved, and they are free to start their new life, but that’s not the case at all. Either party can one day wake up and decide that they want something – money, a house, their ex-wife or husband’s pension, years and years (there is no time limit) after being divorced. Shocking right?
So why aren’t more people aware of this? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because they are so focused on getting a divorce they miss it. Or it could be that the pain and stress of divorce is so high they don’t want to give it any more thought than they have to. Whatever the reason, the risk is very real. So what can you do to avoid this?
The importance of a consent order in a divorce
The only way that you can get any financial agreement made legally binding is through what’s known as a consent order. Consent means you’ve come to an agreement, you consent to something, and order is an instruction from the court.
So a consent order is a legal document that outlines what you’ve agreed to, and then the court approves it to enforce that. For example, suppose you said, “we are going to sell our former marital home, and we are going to split the proceeds from the sale equally between us,” and that didn’t happen. In that case, one of you could go to the court and say, “look, this is what was agreed, this isn’t happening,” and the court will enforce it.
Protecting your financial future with a clean break order
The consent order describes how your finances will be split, and it also gives you both clean break protection from each other. This means that neither of you can change your mind in the future and come back for more. For example, imagine a situation where you have decided to sell your house, and you’ve decided not to touch each other’s pensions. A consent order will deal with the sale of a property, and it will give you both a clean break financially, protecting both of your pensions from either of you making a claim against them in the future.
The clean break also protects any money you could come into in the future, such as inheritance. It provides lifelong protection, and even if you don’t have any assets right now, you should still get the simplest type of consent order, known as a clean break order, because that will protect your future wealth. Think of it as an insurance policy that will protect your financial future no matter what happens. And there’s more good news; the cost is so low it’s affordable for everyone.
You’re probably thinking, this is a great idea; how do I get one? There are a couple of rules to consider first: you must have started your divorce before you can get a consent order approved by the court, and you both have to agree on your finances.
Rules for obtaining a consent order in a divorce
You can’t get your financial agreement approved by the court and then get a divorce. You must start the divorce proceedings first because you can only submit your consent order to the court for approval once you’ve received the conditional order for your divorce (a conditional order is the court permitting you to divorce).
The second point is that you both have to be in agreement for your financial settlement to be approved by the court. This means that you have decided exactly how you will split things and how much each party will get. If one of you wants to stay in the house and the other wants to sell it, for example, you are not in agreement, so you can’t have a consent order.
If you cannot reach an agreement, then the only way you can resolve your situation is for one of you to take the other to court for a judge to decide. But if you go down that route, you’re looking at thousands and thousands of pounds in legal costs, not to mention the invasive nature and stress of publicly disclosing your finances in the most minute details.
As troubling as that prospect sounds, the good news is that in most cases, probably as high as 98%, couples end up reaching an agreement without going to court. The main reason is that people tend to see sense and realise that they will lose whatever financial benefit they are arguing over to pay off all the legal fees they’ll incur.
Using solicitors for financial settlements in divorce: Is it necessary?
So back to the question, do you need a solicitor to sort out your finances when you divorce? And if so, how much does it cost?
It’s usually not a great idea to use solicitors to help you reach an agreement because there are more cost-effective solutions. If you are facing absolute hostility and you think that your husband or wife is hiding assets from you, then speaking to a solicitor is a good idea, especially if you need to go to court. But even in this case, a court will make you at least try mediation first because they know this is a better route. So if you are struggling to reach an agreement, your first option should be mediation.
A mediator only helps you reach an agreement, and they don’t advise on what is a fair split, so sometimes an agreement is reached that isn’t a fair split which a court will challenge. A solicitor can help here, but they will charge a few hundred pounds to share advice you can find freely on our website or by taking our free 50-second test here.
The Importance of a Watertight Consent Order
The consent order has to be drafted by a solicitor to give you the protection you seek and to be approved by the court. A consent order is a very powerful document. It is the only financial document that can’t be disputed once it’s been approved by the court.
You may have heard of a separation agreement, which solicitors will draft for you that describes how things will be and your future intentions after you split. Arguably, a separation agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on (despite costing £3,000 on average) because it isn’t legally binding. It can be disputed and argued over, whereas a consent order is completely watertight and cannot be disputed at all. So for that reason, a consent order has to be written in the right way so it does what you think it’s going to do, and there are no grey areas or ambiguity that can be challenged or misinterpreted.
Easy Online Divorce: A Cost-Effective Solution for Consent Orders
At Easy Online Divorce, we keep the costs down by only using solicitors to draft the consent order and deal with any judge queries, leaving our skilled and friendly customer service team to deal with our customers. Whereas, at a more traditional law firm, you’ll find that they tend to do the admin and customer care themselves (or rather a paralegal will do it) but they charge you their solicitor rates for everything driving your costs up.
Our fees start at £299 for a simple clean break, which is a consent order for those with no children or assets to split, that protects both of you from any future claims. Our standard consent order at £499 will deal with lump sum payments, transfer of properties, sale of properties, and periodic payments. And if you have pensions to share, we have a pension sharing consent order at £599 (a pension sharing order is the only way a pension company will transfer funds). These fees are fixed, with no additional hidden charges.
The High Cost of High-Street Solicitors
When it comes to the cost of getting a consent order from a high street solicitor, it really depends on where you are in the country and who you speak to, but as a ballpark, you would be looking at a minimum of £1000 for a simple clean break, but upwards of £2000 for a pension sharing order depending on the complexity. And typically, most high street solicitors won’t charge you a fixed price for a consent order, instead billing for the hours they spend on it.
A further consideration that increases costs is that a high-street solicitor can only represent one party. A high street solicitor’s role is to act in their client’s best interest. Therefore the same solicitor cannot equally represent both sides of the argument. This means that with a solicitor-led consent order, you will both need separate solicitors doubling your costs.
But the cost impact doesn’t stop there. What then happens is the two solicitors begin arguing between themselves, trying to get the best possible deal for their respective clients. We have couples who come to us in desperation to sort out their consent order because despite being very clear on how they want to split their assets, their solicitors are antagonising their situation and creating more conflict by pushing them both to take more – all the time added to their legal bill with each phone call, letter or email.
The Benefits of Finding Common Ground and Reaching Agreement
Reducing the stress of divorce and keeping costs low is why we encourage couples to find common ground and reach an agreement over their finances. By doing this, they can use our online service, where we prepare the consent order for both of them and submit it to the court for approval. This process is much quicker, less stressful and more cost-effective than the traditional high-street solicitor approach.
In conclusion, it’s not really a question of whether you need a solicitor, but rather how you use a solicitor to sort out your finances. If you’re facing hostility, it may be a good idea to have a solicitor fighting your corner, but for most of us, it’s not usually necessary to use solicitors to reach an agreement.
Remember, divorce and finances are separate things, and taking the necessary steps to protect your financial future is essential. A consent order provides the legal protection you need and cannot be disputed once approved by the court. While traditional law firms charge high fees for this service, better options, such as using a specialised online service, are available if you agree on your financial split.
We hope this article has given you more clarity about your options to protect yourself financially after divorce. If you have any questions or would like some advice on your situation, you can call us on 0204 586 6114, email us or book a call back here.