When people are going through a separation or divorce, there are usually a series of arrangements to sort out. In many cases these are not too complex and can be resolved by discussion or negotiation between you, or with the help of a mediator or solicitor. In other more complex cases we legal professionals might work with other specialists who provide specific advice and help in unique circumstances. In this week’s blog we thought we’d take a look at how these people sometimes fit into the puzzle, and why we (or the court) might sometimes recommend their involvement.
Where arrangements for children are difficult to agree and parents unfortunately end up in the court process, the court is likely to require the involvement of a CAFCASS (Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service) Officer to make initial safeguarding checks on the children’s welfare, and possibly also to help the court further. A CAFCASS officer is a specialist children’s social worker. In some cases his or her role might extend to visiting the parents and children and observing them together, or having discussions with them, then reporting back to the court; in other cases, where children are older for instance, the officer’s role might be compiling a ‘wishes and feelings’ report to ensure that the children’s voices are heard in court proceedings.
For parents who manage to stay out of court while making arrangements for their children, it is still helpful in some cases to have input and assistance from a specialist who understands how to help children through parental separation. Here, an Independent Social Worker (ISW) could be involved to offer support and advice to both parents, listen to the children, or even to make recommendations about what should happen.
Where parents are struggling to communicate with each other or with the children, a Family Consultant could help. These are specialist counsellors with experience of working with separating and separated parents to help them work through the emotional aspects of separation and focus on co-parenting in a positive and constructive way, either together or separately. We often work with family consultants in the collaborative process, and it is possible to bring them in to a mediation environment too if this is useful.
Turning now to the financial side of a separation and divorce, the general situation is that the more complicated your assets are, the more experts might be necessary to assist with valuing them and planning for the future. For most people, the main asset is a family home and often the most important decision is what will happen to that. The home will need to be valued: this can be done either by inviting some (3 usually) local estate agents round to do a market appraisal and then averaging these suggested values out, by paying a Chartered Surveyor to do an independent valuation which is likely to be more accurate, or simply by putting the property on the market and seeing what price people are willing to pay. A Chartered Surveyor will usually give the most accurate valuation short of putting the home on the market, but market appraisals are usually free. The same applies for any other property owned by either person.
Also where houses are concerned, a mortgage adviser can help establish a person’s mortgage capacity and find suitable mortgage possibilities, which can expand available options either for staying in a property or for rehousing.
Another major family asset that can easily be overlooked is pension provision. Here, although you can usually get a transfer value from your pension provider to use for negotiation purposes, it is often necessary to value the pension or pensions more accurately with the assistance of an Actuary. This is particularly the case where pension assets are in a final salary scheme, and certainly where the Pension Protection Fund might be involved. If there are several different pension schemes, an actuary can also advise on the most efficient way to implement a settlement, and indeed do that when the time comes.
If there is a family business, it may be necessary to ask an expert to value the business as a going concern or for sale, or to value the income that comes or could come from it, and to consider any possible options for freeing up cash to fund a settlement. A specialist chartered accountant may be the first port of call here but much depends on the nature of the business: for example, a farm valuation would be likely to involve a specialist land and property valuer too.
Where there is more wealth or international assets, a specialist financial adviser and/or tax and trusts specialist could be very useful, both to advise on the values and liquidity of current investments, and to consider the most efficient options for realising assets to fund a settlement. In these circumstances, you will also benefit from the services of a lawyer in the country in which your assets are based.
Not all divorces are complicated, but each is unique, and it is possible that investing in some specialist advice at an early stage can enable a swifter resolution of issues. If you’re thinking about whether one of these non-legal experts could assist you to move forward in your divorce, you can call us on 01223 443333 to make an appointment to see Adam, Sue, Gail, Tricia or Simon, who will be pleased to help.