By Ellen Fell, Senior Associate Solicitor at Hall Brown Family Law
We know that financial worries have always been a concern for couples, however, spiralling living costs are undoubtedly adding increased pressure to many relationships, and IFAs are increasingly finding themselves in the centre of questions relating to family law advice.
Sadly, due to extra funds being few and far between, and difficulties arising with maintaining the family home, many relationships are coming under pressure. In some cases, couples may decide to physically separate without taking steps to formalise their separation and the financial matters that flow from it, or they may make the decision to stay in a broken relationship, simply because they don’t understand the legal options available to them, fear they can’t afford a divorce, or are worried about the prospect of living alone.
At Hall Brown Family Law, we have experienced high volumes of enquiries over the past couple of months, which in part seem to be connected to the strain of the cost-of-living crisis. The pressures of the financial landscape can result in people postponing seeking legal advice at an early stage due to concerns about the associated costs. However, avoiding doing so can simply fuel a lack of certainty and security.
Obtaining expert advice at an early stage is invaluable and can often save money in the long run. There are several options that can be explored when clients find themselves in this position. Our aim is always to minimise the financial impact for clients and to try and reach an agreement as swiftly as possible, outside the court forum where possible.
Forms of Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR) – such as mediation, collaborative law or arbitration – can often be a good way to reach a resolution or at least narrow the issues. For example, mediation can be an extremely effective way of helping some clients to resolve disputes as amicably as possible. Giving individuals the opportunity to sit down together to discuss their concerns with the assistance of a mediator, once they have had the benefit of legal advice, can be a cost-effective way of concluding a realistic and workable solution, enabling both parties to move forward with their independent lives.
For others the cost-of-living crisis may accelerate relationships, with couples taking steps to cohabit and pool their resources. It is as equally important for those individuals to take advice to understand the implications of doing so and to protect their assets. An effective way to achieve this is by entering into a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal document between unmarried couples in which they can set out intentions regarding finances, property, and children, whilst living together and in the event of a separation. Whilst you can enter a cohabitation agreement at any time, it’s always best to get ahead and do it before moving in together. Having this agreement in place protects the client, and any other family members who might be affected.
We understand that Financial Advisers often find themselves dealing with clients who require family law advice, and there are many unanswered questions clients may have. Financially, it is always in the best interest of the client to seek legal advice at the earliest possible time to safeguard their finances, understand all the options available to them and allow for future plans to exist.