For this issue, our Editors interviewed Wikivorce member Sarah-Jane Wood, on her experience of the divorce process:
- What was your situation at the time of your divorce – your ages, children, length of marriage?
We were married for 10 years, 4 kids [then 9,7,5 and 3]; me 42, him 40
- Why did you go to a solicitor? What was your impression of what a solicitor would do for you?
He petitioned first to push through the divorce; I was a wreck and didn't know where to turn. He wanted to divorce on grounds of my Unreasonable Behaviour, but I wouldn't accept that on principal so ended up petitioning on his adultery to speed up the process; he was desperate to get divorced as soon as possible
- How far did the divorce process go on his petition?
It never got off the ground; we went on my petition by agreement
- Did you know anything about the divorce process before this?
I have had a previous marriage when I was in my 20's. I did my own divorce then but no kids and only equity in the flat so we sold that and split the proceeds without a solicitor. I was in London so I just did the leg-work myself. It cost me £56!!! I bought a book from Smith's called "How to do your own Divorce"!! It’s good advice for those who don't have kids or complicated money issues
- At the beginning of this case, how well did your solicitor explain things to you?
Reasonably well but I was in such a state, I didn't take much in. My ex was very pushy and had already decided what was going to happen. I did get terms of agreement and an application for Legal Aid
- What stage were you at when you decided to self-rep?
I was already divorced and ancillary relief was done and dusted but he then took me back to court for contact issues and variation of maintenance.
- When you decided to Self-rep, how much, if at all, were costs a factor - what had you spent by this point?? Had you already been billed by Legal Aid when you made your decision?
I didn't self rep for the original divorce, ancillary relief etc but after a legal aid bill of £18,000 decided that I would go alone for subsequent hearings; I have been to court 13 times! I was adamant I was not going to spend another penny!! I had been billed and the interest was 8%, the debt seemed to rise year on year, it was a second charge on my house. The mortgage was difficult to find let alone another payment on top. So I sold my house to get capital and then bought a cheaper house
- Had you tried any other routes - mediation etc? Were you aware of other options?
We had to go to mediation because of the legal aid but it was unsuccessful. As I said he had his own agenda and was not going to budge
- Had you dispensed with your sol when you decided you were going to be a LIP? If not, was there a reaction?
I sought legal advice from a different solicitor who encouraged me to Self-rep!!!
- When you became a LIP had you any idea what it involved? It must have been very different from your experience in your first divorce?
It was certainly more complicated. I think the biggest hurdle was the legal jargon and filling in the forms correctly!! That's where Wikivorce was a Godsend! To be honest finding Wikivorce was what prompted me to go LIP. I am an articulate, intelligent woman; rather feistier than before and just thought I could do it. It is certainly much easier once you have dealt with the emotional stuff. I had lots of advice as to what was reasonable to ask for. I also had very good advice on forms and letters from other members. The best advice I had was not to be scared in court, as judges were just public servants, doing a job, like the rest of us. Reading through forums, post etc gave a huge insight into the legal process
- How did you feel once the decision was made?
Empowered!! I had felt so out of control when it was being dealt with by solicitors and barristers
- Did your being a LIP change the way his solicitor behaved?
I think so although in the last case my ex started with solicitor and then dispensed with him before the final hearing a week before. I was miles ahead of him in knowing the legal process!
- How did you prepare for your first court hearing?
I had sent some preliminary letters to his solicitor. I prepared a short statement to read in court and then took directions. It seemed to work ok!
- How would you describe what happened?
It was a 10-minute hearing, I had made the application and he cross-applied. We went into court, I said my bit and then the judge gave directions and that was it. I had been to the same court many times so was not intimidated. The court ushers and clerks looked after me. I knew where the loo was, the coffee machine and where to have a fag so I was ok!
- With hindsight what could you have done differently?
Not worried so much. Would have liked to have taken a friend or a book, there was a lot of waiting around!
- As I understand it, judges etc are meant to help LIPs ... what was your experience?
I had quite a few judges! The first one who conducted the original case was old school and very scary! I had a lady judge for another hearing who bullied my x into submission so that worked in my favour1 The last judge was very directive and kept the proceedings very tight, he asked the question and we gave the answers! He explained the legal process and his expectations of the case very clearly. He didn't stand for any nonsense but was fair. I was the applicant in the case and he didn't give my ex much of a chance to put his side of things. He congratulated me on my bundle! I think he had made up his mind before we even got in there!!
- Did you settle in court? How did you cope with the negotiation process?
We have never settled!!! There wasn't much negotiation to be honest, the judge sent us out for a cup of tea and then summed up, asked a few more questions before making his decision!!
- Does your ex-husband follow the Court Order?
Begrudgingly! I was given costs and had to go to ‘Moneyclaim’ online to get it… again advice from Wikivorce!
- How much do you think your attitude helped you to get through it?
- Looking back at the LIP experience - what was good about it?
Feeling in control and standing up for myself. My ex and I don't communicate on any level (his choice) but we had one meeting that for once I didn't go to pieces or cry or believe his drivel
- .. and the downside?
Preparing the paperwork took hour and hours!!
- What would you say to anyone considering LIP?
If you are feeling emotionally strong enough go for it, you can get all the information you need from a couple of good books and Wikivorce!! If it is straightforward, there should be some kind of divorce process that doesn't involve the courts..... one stop mediation. The problem is that marriage breakdown is such a massive emotional drain on people's ability to think straight when they really do need to have their wits about them. I am all for a cooling off period following separation to let the emotions settle.