Is it possible to divorce without going to court?

No matter how bitter the divorce, few people want to have their future decided by the courts unless it is absolutely necessary and there are a number of ways to avoid going to court.

Although there are many similar issues that come up time and again when we are advising clients, no two cases are ever exactly the same and the approach that suits one couple may not suit another. That’s why we discuss a range of different approaches and advise on the best way forward according to the circumstances of each family. The steps you take in the early stages of your divorce can also have an impact on how smooth the process is. Read our article 5 things you need to know before you divorce.

Is mediation an option?

A mediator is trained to help the couple explore what is important to each of them and try to help them find a solution which they are both comfortable with.  This can be really effective if both have a willingness to try to find a compromise.  It is recommended that a family lawyer advises alongside the mediation process so that the agreement is workable and meets the needs of both parties.

What if I’d rather not negotiate over money with my spouse directly?

Many people still prefer to have their lawyers negotiate the terms of the settlement so that they don’t have to talk money with their husband or wife and they can concentrate on helping the children cope with the separation.  We will help you through the process of exchanging financial information and then discuss the possible ways in which the property, money, income and pensions can be divided so that we can put forward proposals for settlement.  We can do this through letters and emails, phone calls with the other lawyer and sometimes having a meeting with the lawyers and husband and wife so that we can discuss it all together.  It depends on what works for each individual client.

I have heard of Collaborative Family Law – what is this?

With Collaborative Law, discussions are within four way meetings with the husband and wife and their collaboratively trained lawyers. Each spouse instructs a Collaboratively trained lawyer, such as Andrew Meehan at Harrogate Family Law, and enters into a Collaborative Agreement about the process. It is a very constructive process where both the husband and wife retain a high degree of control over what is discussed and how the matter is resolved.  Those that go through this process usually come out the other side feeling very positive and able to work well with their husband and wife.  It is not for everyone because if an agreement cannot be reached and court proceedings are required, they each have to start again and instruct different lawyers.

What if we can’t agree?

If you cannot agree and prefer not to go to court an arbitrator can be appointed. The arbitrator’s decision will be final and binding. It is also possible to use arbitration to deal with just a single issue if everything else is agreed.  Both parties have to agree to the appointment of the arbitrator and the arbitrators fees have to be met by the parties.  However, it can be much quicker and more focussed than court proceedings and therefore more cost efficient overall.

Raising Awareness of the Risks of Cohabitation

More than 5.9 million people in the UK are choosing to live together without marrying yet few are aware that they have little or no legal protection if their relationship ends.

With cohabiting couple families now the fastest growing type of household, the family law body Resolution has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the risks facing those in this kind of relationship.

More than half of cohabitees still believe they are protected under “common law marriage” and Cohabitation Awareness Week (27th November to 1st December 2017) aims to dispel this myth and present options for people to protect themselves.

It doesn’t matter whether they have been living together for a few months or many years, there are no laws to dictate how cohabiting couples should divide their assets if they separate. As a result, relationship breakdown can lead to severe financial and emotional stress and hardship.

In practical terms, if the house shared by a cohabiting couple is in one of their names, the other can be asked to leave and would have no claim on the property. There is also no legal requirement for one party to support the other financially after separation.

In the absence of a marriage contract, unmarried couples should seriously consider a cohabitation agreement to provide some legal protection in the event of relationship breakdown. All cohabiting couples should seek legal advice about drawing up a will to set out their wishes should one of them die.

Cohabiting couples who separate should seek legal advice as soon as possible to discuss their options. Ideally, they should talk to a family solicitor in the early stages of their relationship basing their plans on staying together but deciding what arrangements should be made if life doesn’t turn out as they hope. A legal agreement will help them avoid issues in the future if things don’t work out between them.

Contact us for advice on cohabitation, separation and living together agreements.

Carol Jessop is the only family lawyer in Harrogate accredited by Resolution as a cohabitation law specialist.

5 Things You Need to Think About Before You Divorce

When you first start thinking about divorce and all the challenges that lie ahead it can all feel pretty overwhelming.  In our experience, the way things are handled in the initial stages before you divorce can also have a big impact on the outcome and how long the whole process takes.

Here are 5 things to think about to put you on the right track before you divorce:

Where do I start?

Most people who seek our advice are completely at a loss to know where to start first.  They don’t know what to expect both in terms of the outcome or how to get there. Naturally, they are worried about the future and what it might hold for them. Some may have no idea what money there is available because the other handled the finances during the marriage. Don’t let this stop you from taking legal advice. We can help you understand how to move forward and by seeking advice early, you are putting yourself in the best position to secure a fair outcome for you and your family.

I’m more concerned about my children than the money

For most parents the financial arrangements are secondary to the arrangements for the children. This is understandable and when people first approach us we spend time helping them plan how they will discuss the divorce with their children and how they will continue to parent together after divorce. Sorting out the arrangements for your children can be very emotional and our job is to make sure you don’t lose sight of the financial negotiations, so that you and your family can enjoy a secure future once all this is behind you.

I don’t want to fight for every penny

Most people we see want to reach an agreement with their husband or wife quickly and don’t want to fight about it but they are also worried about what the future holds and want to be financially secure. Don’t feel guilty about seeking legal advice about finances early on.  You will be better informed about your options when you are discussing arrangements with your husband or wife and that knowledge may help you reach a workable agreement and avoid you agreeing something which may leave you vulnerable. If you are keen to remain amicable throughout read our advice on how to avoid going to court.

How do I find out what money there is?

You will need to be open with one another and share your financial documents. This can be hard when trust has been lost and emotions are raw and this is where we can help to secure financial information on your behalf. If you suspect money may have been hidden we can undertake a thorough investigation of your financial position to make sure that everything possible is known. Tempting as it might be to go through your spouse’s personal files, it is unlawful to access someone’s private information without their consent, even if you are their husband or wife.

Is it the right time?

If you have been unhappy for some time and have built up the courage to tell your husband or wife you want to separate you will be keen to resolve the arrangements for the children and money as soon as possible.  However this may be unexpected from your spouse’ point of view and they will need time to come to terms with your decision before they can possibly think about plans for the future.  It is recommended that you take legal advice at an early stage but, unless there is something urgent which needs to be resolved, we would normally recommend waiting a little while before trying to negotiate arrangements.

Andrew Meehan and Carol Jessop are the only family lawyers based in Harrogate accredited by Resolution for dealing with complex financial arrangements following divorce.


Andrew Meehan is individually recommended for family law by both Chambers UK and the Legal 500. He is also a Resolution accredited specialist solicitor for divorce cases involving complex financial and property matters.

This article has been prepared with the aim of providing general information only and does not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While we aim to ensure that the information is correct at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. In addition, everyone’s circumstances are different and this article is provided by way of general information only and must not be relied upon. If you require legal advice on a family law issue, please feel free to contact us by emailing Harrogate Family Law accepts no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss or damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of any part of our website, except to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.

HFL Celebrates Seven Years in Harrogate

Harrogate Family Law is marking seven years in business this month, at a time when the firm’s excellence has been recognised by two national guides to the legal profession.

The niche practice, which set out to bring to Harrogate the level of specialist expertise found in large law firms, has been praised by both the Legal 500 and Chambers UK guides, both published this month.

The Legal 500 described the firm as ‘the best in Harrogate’ for financial proceedings arising from divorce, separation and civil partnership dissolution. Founder Andrew Meehan was described in the guide as ‘very thorough in his handling of cases, and a good listener to boot’.

Harrogate Family Law recently welcomed a new partner, Carol Jessop, to the team. Carol sits on the national Standards Committee for the family law body Resolution and is accredited by the organisation as a specialist in cohabitation and complex financial divorce cases.

The firm is also investing in up and coming legal talent by awarding a training contract to top law graduate Laura Mounsey, who has been working with the team as a paralegal since graduating from Durham University.

Founder Andrew Meehan said: “With such a strong reputation and talented team we are looking forward to building on the success of the first seven years to continue delivering our unique brand of technical excellence combined with sensitivity and approachability.

“The latest editions of the legal guides praise us for our know-how as well as our ability to listen to our clients and it is this mix that has won us a reputation as a leader in our field regionally.”

HFL Helps Kick-start Technology Fund at Western Primary School

We are pleased to have been able to support one of our local schools, Western Primary School, with a donation that will help kick-start the PTA’s new technology fund.

HFL founder and managing director Andrew Meehan presented a cheque for £540 to headteacher Cheryl Smith in conjunction with Ken Gibson of Alexander Gibson Estate Agents and Clare Wright, co-founder of Classlist.

Western Primary was an early adopter of Classlist, a private social network for school parents. More than 90% of parents are now active school community participants through Classlist’s platform.

Helen Ellis from the school’s PTA used Classlist’s revenue share scheme, where PTAs which introduce local sponsors keep 50% of the proceeds.

She said: “Classlist makes me feel much more involved with what’s happening in my children’s lives. The fact that Classlist also helps us to raise money for the school is a huge bonus. We will be putting today’s cheque towards the purchase of new IT equipment.We will be putting today’s cheque towards the purchase of new IT equipment.”

Andrew Meehan said: “As a Harrogate business owner and parent of a child at Western, I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the school community in this way and support the PTA in its fundraising for new technology that will help students build the skills they need for future learning and employment.”

Ken Gibson added: “The Classlist platform has some great benefits for schools and for parents, particularly in fundraising. We’re very happy to support Western Primary, and look forward to supporting other schools in the area in this way.”

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