What if my former partner decides to represent themselves?
There are lots of resources online about, or for, someone representing themselves in legal proceedings when it comes to divorce or separation. But knowing that your ex-partner will be representing himself/herself can bring concern and worry for the person who chooses to have a solicitor too. They worry particularly that their former partner may (sometimes intentionally) cause their own legal costs to be higher. But if that is the case what can your solicitor do to help ease your concerns?
Sometimes one person chooses to have legal representation because they can afford the cost whilst their former partner has more limited resources and represents themselves. However, this is often not the case and one person has legal representation because they are intimidated, and sometimes frightened, by their former partner and do not feel that they can deal with them directly.
If you think your former partner is likely to represent themselves in initial negotiations, and in Court proceedings if these take place, it is important to choose a solicitor with experience of working with an unrepresented person on the other side of a case. Unrepresented parties in Court proceeding are often referred to as a litigants in person. (LIPS)
If it important for you to know that your solicitor can contain and limit costs if there are large amounts of communication received from the unrepresented person. This can be letters, or more often, streams of emails. These can be to ask questions or seek to go back and forward disputing points.
Information can be provided but advice cannot be given, but often brief explanations of the process itself or an aspect of procedure can keep costs down and help progress matters.
It can often seem very strange for one person’s solicitor to be writing in pleasant terms or speaking on the telephone to the unrepresented person toward whom the represented party can feel quite angry. However, it is helpful for you if your solicitor can establish a relationship of trust with the unrepresented person as this can facilitate the process. For example, a solicitor asks an unrepresented person to provide a document for the Court process, i.e. a Chronology (which would have been directed by the Court); it can save a lot of backward and forward correspondence if the unrepresented person trusts that the solicitor is simply setting out for him or her what needs to be done and it does not then give rise to a lot of queries.
It is also helpful not to be drawn into matters by the unrepresented person which are to be decided by the Court. The unrepresented person does not usually know what matters can be the subject of negotiation. For example the Court may have decided what further documentation has to be provided but the unrepresented person may seek to keep referring to other documentation they would like but the Court has already ruled that those doesn’t have to be provided.
Sometimes a telephone conversation between the solicitor and the unrepresented person can achieve a great deal. For example, in one financial dispute I had between a divorcing couple a wife came to me from previous solicitors. She sought ongoing maintenance. Her husband was completely opposed to this as he thought she was likely to move in with her new partner. Her husband was unrepresented and he did not know that it was an option to make provision that if his wife did move in with her partner that the maintenance could come to an end. The husband had previously just continually refused to agree to any maintenance and negotiations were at stalemate. The wife was very worried as to how she was going to manage as the husband was facing bankruptcy. A conversation with him quickly identified what the problem was. Although advice could not be given, information could be provided and proposals then made and the case resolved saving thousands of pounds.
There are other pitfalls. For example, an unrepresented person may be required by the Court to produce documentation which he or she delivers to the solicitor’s office. An experienced solicitor will know to check whether or not the unrepresented person has taken a copy as it can often transpire they have not. Then the represented person wants to ask some questions about the documents but answers cannot be provided as the unrepresented person no longer has them.
If an unrepresented person can see that his or her former partner’s solicitor is acting professionally and politely it can smooth the way to obtaining the best outcome for the lowest cost for the represented party.