When emotions are running high, it's important to make sure the right decisions are made, not only for the benefit of any children but for you too. Paul Jordan, a specialist family law solicitor at Slee Blackwell Solicitors in Barnstaple, explains how seeking legal advice can help and why you should do it sooner, rather than later. Working with a legal expert "Our legal system is geared to help people represent themselves, but that is not necessarily the sensible option," Paul said. "It is almost impossible to be objective in such an emotional situation." "The law is complex and if you do not properly understand your rights it is difficult for you to know what you should be seeking or contesting." "There are many practical and legal pitfalls that are invisible to the untrained eye which is why professional advice from a specialist family law solicitor is so vital." Finding the right divorce solicitor for you When a relationship is ending it can feel like everything you believed was solid, has become shaky and unreliable. A lawyer can help you find your way through this and provide you with practical solutions. Your solicitor can help you make the right legal decisions for your future in a professional and non-confrontational way. "Your lawyer needs to be able to explain complex legal issues in plain English and be clear with you at the outset about the timescales and costs involved," Paul said. Cost-effective advice "Buying legal advice is much like buying petrol in as much as you'd rather do without it but unfortunately you need it," said Paul. "Legal disputes can be expensive. You need to make sure you're getting good value for money and that your lawyer has balanced the cost of your legal proceedings against the expected outcome to make sure you're spending your money wisely." When should you seek legal advice? "It's important to get expert legal advice as soon as it becomes clear your relationship is ending," Paul explained. "The sooner you take advice, the sooner you'll understand your options concerning your children, property and finances." "I've seen many situations where one or both partners left it too long and faced more difficulties because of their delay in taking advice from a specialist family law solicitor." What else should you know? It is important to appreciate that legally speaking married couples and unmarried couples are worlds apart. Their rights and obligations differ enormously. There is no automatic safety net of rights for those who are unmarried and whose relationship has ended. "The rights of the 'common-law husband' and 'the common-law wife' are an urban myth," Paul explained. "It is much more difficult for unmarried individuals who separate to establish a legal claim over their former partner's assets." The law recognises that spouses have automatic rights to claim against the other spouse's assets, including what share of the property, savings and pensions the spouse might be entitled to. No such automatic entitlement exists if you are not married or in a civil partnership. Can you do anything to make separation easier? As unromantic as it may sound, it is worth taking the time to consider your legal position before entering a relationship. "More and more couples are taking advice before moving in together and entering into a cohabitation agreement from the start. It can save a great deal of legal uncertainty and should avoid a costly legal dispute if the relationship ends," said Paul. A cohabitation agreement sets out each person's financial expectations for the relationship and records what they intend to happen to their property and finances if they split. "If you are getting married or entering a civil partnership you might want to consider a prenuptial agreement," Paul said. "Prenups, once for the rich and famous, are fast becoming a common feature in modern life." "They can help prevent issues arising later down the line and should always be considered if there's an imbalance of wealth between partners or if there are children from a previous relationship." Start moving forward The right legal advice can help you manage the turmoil and financial implications of relationship breakdown. Slee Blackwell has a team of specialist divorce lawyers working throughout Devon and Somerset. They are recommended by 'The Legal 500,' the leading independent guide to the legal profession and will be celebrating their centenary this year. Call 0808 139 1606 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discover how Slee Blackwell can help you. For more information visit sleeblackwell.co.uk and explore their blog to find out more from Paul as he answers some commonly asked questions about divorce.