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Self Representation in Divorce

Self Representation in Divorce
Submitted by
Linda Sheridan

Richard Green has been a member of Wikivorce for more than a year. He told us his experience of Self Representation in his divorce process:

  • What was your situation at the time of your divorce – your ages, kids, length of marriage?

 I‘m 47, my ex wife is 45; we have 2 children, girls, who are 20 and 18 yrs old. We were married in November 1985 and separated after 22 years in January 2007. My wife petitioned for divorce in March 2008 on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour and we were granted a Decree Absolute in April 2009. I did, initially, have legal representation up to the Decree Nisi, at which point I decided to represent myself. I became a Litigant in Person (LIP) for the Maintenance Pending Suit proceedings and our finances were settled by consent at the First Hearing.

  •  Why did you go to a solicitor? What was your impression of what a solicitor would do for you?

 My ex-wife petitioned for divorce in March 2008. I had already contacted a solicitor and my ex, wrongly, thought I was going to petition for adultery. She raced me to get her petition in first. As soon as I received her petition I went straight to my solicitor. I felt it was the natural thing to do but I kick myself now for rushing to use a solicitor I didn’t really need.  

  •  Did you know anything about the divorce process before this?

 Until this happened I knew very little about the divorce process. I thought I had to use a solicitor because my ex wife worked in the divorce courts and that was my understanding – but that was about it. For example, I was completely unaware that the finances were separate from the divorce. I expected my solicitor to advise me and work to get me the best possible financial agreement as well as doing all the legal work such as filling in the divorce forms.

  •  How well did your solicitor explain things to you?

 At this stage, everything I knew about the divorce process had come from my solicitor. She was very helpful and explained the process. I think she did a good job. I discovered Wikivorce at the end of March 2008. I came with one question, “How do I prove intent to co-habit” (not easy by the way) and I found a community of generous souls who understood what I was going through. Life started to get better.

  •  At what stage in the process were you when you began to self rep? How much, if at all, were costs a factor - what had you spent by this point??

 I decided to represent myself after I joined Wikivorce and started to get a much better understanding of the process. My ex had applied for maintenance pending suit and my legal bills were already between £3k and £4k. The costs were the main factor in my decision. I could see the invoices, and knew that each letter was generating work for the solicitors.

  •  Did you try any other routes - mediation etc? Were you aware of other options?

 I did try to negotiate directly with my ex but I refused mediation. I didn’t think she would tell the truth at mediation. She proved that when she filled in her form E and said she had no intention to cohabit. She will be moving in with her boyfriend soon. At the time I began to ‘Self Rep’, we had the Decree Nisi.  My ex had filed for ancillary relief and maintenance pending suit at the same time.  There had been a limited exchange of financial information at this stage.

  •  How did you tell your sol you were going LIP? Was there a reaction?

 It was easy to tell my solicitor that I was going to be a Litigant in Person. She had asked me at every stage of the proceedings if I wanted her to continue to act for me and was OK when I said I was going to do it myself from that point. In fact I bumped into her at the court on the day of the maintenance pending suit hearing and she looked over my case notes and gave me a few tips. It was very nice of her... and it was free advice!

  •  When you went LIP had you any idea what it involved?

 When I first became a litigant in person, I had no real idea what it involved. I had picked up some stuff from Wikivorce and once it started I got a lot of help and advice from the site.

  •  How did you feel once the decision was made?

 Once the decision [to be a LIP] was made, I felt more in touch, more in control. Letters from my ex’s solicitors were now coming straight to me. Before that I had felt very out of touch. My job was very demanding so it was difficult at times to reach my solicitor and find out what was going on.

  •  Did you being LIP change the way her solicitor behaved??

 I don’t think my being LIP made any difference to the way her solicitor behaved but maybe another solicitor would have been able to see if they were trying things on.

  •  How did you prepare for your first court hearing?

 The Maintenance Pending Suit Hearing was the first time I had ever been in court. I had an affidavit and backup evidence to prepare. It wasn’t too difficult because I had Wikivorce as a resource to guide me. The paperwork for this was much easier than the Form E and the Questionnaire needed for Ancillary Relief.

  •  How would you describe what happened?

 Unfortunately I hadn’t properly prepared to give my side of the story so when I got into court, I opened on a very minor (nitpicking) item, I guess judges have seen this before and my ex's solicitor had already made me look 'cavalier', so the judge stopped me and just proceeded with an order.

  •  With hindsight what could you have done differently?

 With hindsight, I could have prepared a better argument or at least prioritised by writing down a set of prompts on points that were important and that I needed to get across.

  •  As I understand it, judges etc are meant to help LIPs ... what was your experience?

 I thought judges were supposed to help a litigant in person but I didn't feel the judge helped at the Maintenance Pending Suit hearing. They formed an opinion on the back of what the ex's solicitors said when they opened the case, then dealt with it very quickly. I didn't feel I had a say but the amounts involved meant appealing wouldn't be cost effective so I had to accept it.

 It didn’t put me off ‘Self Repping’ though. I didn't worry, because I wanted to settle; getting everything behind me was more important than 'winning'

  •  (You did settle ... at first hearing.) How did you cope with the negotiation process?

 We settled at the First Appointment. It wasn't difficult, I had a clear goal - to settle, anything above my perceived rock bottom of 80:20  to my ex would be a bonus.  We had exchanged letters beforehand and it was clear then that we were close to settling.

  •  How did you work out that 50:50 was not going to happen??

 My ex was not working. She was on incapacity benefit and all the advice I had received indicated that 50:50 was unlikely although I think if I’d pushed it, I could have achieved a much better settlement for me some way down the line.

  •  How much do you think your attitude helped you to get through it?

 Originally I had intended to push to a Final Hearing and let the court decide but I think being realistic about the settlement helped a lot. If I had gone in thinking 50:50 was the only fair outcome and been prepared to fight to the bitter end, it may have cost me less but it would have dragged on and I wanted it over.

  •  Looking back at the LIP experience - what was good about it?

 The best thing about self representing was that I felt closer to what was going on and more in control of what was happening.

  •  .. and the downside?

 The downside was that it was a lot more work and there was a lot of running around. Funnily enough after we had finished negotiating at the hearing, my ex’s solicitor asked if I’d had any legal training!

  •  What would you say to anyone considering LIP?

 I don’t regret doing it at all. I would advise anyone thinking of self representing to register with Wikivorce, speak with others doing the same – and go for it.

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