Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

How to take the financial pain out of marriage breakdown

Tuesday, 15 March, 2016

It is often said that the only people to make money from divorce proceedings are the legal professionals involved. In our series on divorce and pre-nuptial agreements, we have examined the fear, anger and bitterness that shroud a marriage breakdown. 

However, Ireland's current economic woes mean that most people simply can't afford to spend tens of thousands on bitter court battles and are looking for cheaper options when separating and divorcing.

In recent years there has been a concerted attempt by some in the legal profession to reduce both the stress and financial cost involved in divorce.

Family law solicitor Anne O'Neill is one of a growing number of solicitors in Ireland moving away from the traditional adversarial court system in favour of a new method of resolving marital disputes.

'Collaborative law' is aimed at allowing a couple whose marriage has broken down to make joint decisions on how assets should be divided. The aim is to have the couple making most, if not all, decisions about how to divide assets and move forward after the marriage has broken down. The couple still engages their respective solicitors to advise and guide them through the process but the negotiating team also includes two collaborative counsellors.

All six people will sit down at the same table to negotiate the terms of the divorce or separation.

The process usually involves little or no legal correspondence, making the process more transparent and cost effective.

All drafting of agreements can also be done within the collaborative process and any agreements can be ruled or made an order of the court as required.

A typical couple could save around €10,000 if they opted for a collaborative process rather than the traditional court divorce, according to Anne O'Neill.

"Take a typical case of two teachers, married with three children under 10 years of age. They have one primary residence and a small holiday home and two cars," she says. "The average cost of divorce for them would be €23,000-24,000 plus VAT.

"That's the price of putting one of their children through university," she points out. In comparison, a collaborative process for the same couple would cost €14,000, including VAT, she says.

"By going the collaborative route, they would save at least €9,000-10,000 and get a process that is more tailored to themselves," she says. "Why should they put the lawyer's children through college and not their own?"

The concept of collaborative law was first devised in the early 1990s by US lawyer Stu Webb -- a Buddhist -- who witnessed the bitterness and devastation court divorces caused for his clients. The process is particularly suited to a couple that want to remain in contact with each other post-divorce, whether that is because of children, business or other circumstances.

"Very few people are talking after giving evidence in court against each other," points out Anne.

"Collaboration is a much more family-friendly process.

"In the case of a family farm, the emotional connection to the land, the story of the farm can be heard in collaboration but not in a courtroom," she adds.

A list of collaboratively trained solicitors across Ireland is available from the Association of Collaborative Practitioners,

Irish Independent