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Hannah: Welcome to Happily Ever After the podcast where we talk about life's big stories, from great sex to sexual trauma, break ups and breakdowns. Icky secrets and happy endings. It's the stuff that makes us human. And boy, do we cover it all. I'm your host, Hannah Harvey. I'm a writer and a parenting blogger at Mums' Days dot com. That's M.U.M.S.D.A.Y.S .com. I would be very grateful if you could subscribe and leave a review because it means more people can find the podcast. And I also really, really, really love hearing from you, so please contact me through Instagram @Mumsdays with all your stories of life and any thoughts you might have on the episode or even questions you want answering. You can find all the details from this episode in the show notes.
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Hannah: Hello and welcome to Happily Ever After with me, Hannah. And today I am joined by Joanne Major from Major Family Law and the website Splitting Up dot com. Now, Hello Jo.
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Joanne: Hi Hannah Thanks for having me.
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Hannah: Thank you for coming on. So Jo is a divorce lawyer and the owner of the firm who supported me through my rather unpleasant divorce. So thank you for that, first of all, Jo.
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Joanne: Well, I wasn't the lawyer dealing with it Hannah, so I take no responsibility for the outcome.
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Hannah: Well, it was a good you know, it was. Okay.
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Joanne: Um, I'll have a word with my colleague.
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Hannah: He did a wonderful job. It was just. The process is never fun. Whichever way it ends, I think.
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Joanne: Yeah, for sure.
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Hannah: Um, so while this divorce started. Sorry, this podcast started off being kind of about divorce and stuff like that. It's kind of moved on to be more about parenting, but a lot of my audience are still going through divorce or kind of on the cusp of beginning a divorce, um, which, you know, is sadly, part of life. So, yeah, I've got quite a few questions from them, if that's okay to put to you.
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Joanne: Yeah, for sure.
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Hannah: But obviously getting divorced is not a dead set because both you and my lawyer, who was Jonathan Dunkley, are very happily married, so that's always nice. Um, so if you don't mind, Jo, I wanted to pick your brain.
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Joanne: Can I interrupt? Sorry, Hannah. Did Jonathan actually say he was happily married? Did he?
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Hannah: Oh, yeah, very.
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Joanne: I'm joking. I know his wife really well. It's fine. I tease.
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Hannah: He said it's the model marriage.
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Joanne: It is, it is.
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Joanne: So if you don't mind, I was going to pick your brains on behalf of some of the listeners who've been in touch, and they had a few questions. But before I do, can I be a little bit nosy and just ask, you know, did you always want to be a divorce lawyer? You know, when you were the ten year old, who did you know you wanted to be a lawyer or did you have a different dream?
00:02:59 - 00:03:42
Joanne: Yeah. Um, I guess from a young age, I'd often said that, yes, I thought I would probably do law. Um. Don't really know why I thought that. If I'm honest, I think law or journalism was kind of where I was thinking sort of as a teenager. I was sort of at a school where you were very much focussed on what your vocation was going to be, and I suppose it's perhaps later, later in life as my life progresses, that I wonder whether I could have done something perhaps more creative and different. But I suppose in the early years, just through schooling and education, I was focussed on vocation and for me a lawyer was probably a good vocation.
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Hannah: And if you think about like where it's taken you, you know, you now run a business and to do that you have to be super creative all the time.
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Joanne: Yeah, for sure. And I think that for many years of my career I've been practising family law now for 27 years and I've had my own business for 14. And I think that creating and developing the business is something I've particularly enjoyed and thrived in, and I think that's the entrepreneurial side of me. So I think it's been an interesting journey in that the education put me on the path of vocation, but then subsequently my own creativity and individualism has come through with the creation of the business. Well, two businesses, as I've got Major Family Law and of course I've since developed Splitting Up.com. So I suppose, yeah, I've eventually found my own creativity by creating businesses, which is really quite a different skill to just being a lawyer
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Hannah: 100%. I think that goes to show that even if you were somewhere else doing something else, you probably still would have ended up owning your own businesses. Yeah, that's just who you are, I think.
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Joanne: Yeah, I think I'm completely unemployable. So I don't yeah, I think I probably was as well. I think I was always, always searching for something that I wasn't getting when I was employed. And I suppose that was perhaps autonomy and being able to do things my way and creating my own path. So it was always there. It just took a while before it came out.
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Hannah: Yeah. So you went to uni, you did law. Did you go into family law or did you do.
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Joanne: I didn't really do it that way, so I sort of did a combination degree. And then essentially what I did do was the conversion course, which is a one year law course conversion. And so I did that. And no, I didn't, I didn't then specialise in family law at all. I just I started my career as a, say, 27 years ago. And I, I went into a firm which was a sort of general high street firm which did everything. And I just from a very early age, started doing more family law than any other area of law. And therefore I sort of fell into it just really by accident because I did more of it than other areas. I did a little bit of criminal law, some personal injury, some contract and a variety of different things. But because family was probably 80% of what I was doing pretty much from qualification, I just specialised in family law. It was just, okay, I do more of this, I'll just stick with it. So it wasn't a deliberate or conscious choice. It was just I fell into it really accidentally.
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Hannah: Um. Wow. Well, it's obviously worked for you, though.
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Joanne: Yeah, well, hopefully it's worked for the clients, too. I've dealt with many over the years.
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Hannah: Yeah, you have. I've randomly after, like, engaging with you guys. I've spoken to other people since and they're like. Oh, if you're struggling, you need to go to Joanne Major. That's who I use. They were brilliant. So yeah, certainly in this region, people speak very highly of you.
00:06:39 - 00:07:29
Joanne: Yeah, well thank you, Hannah. I think it's just, you know, my motto and really very much the. I suppose what I say to the staff is just do your best. If you do your best and make every client feel as if they're your last, then you can't really do more than that. I can't always guarantee a different outcome to a different lawyer, but I think certainly what I always try to do when I was practising for many years was just to do the very best that I could for the client and make that client and that client would know that. And that was more often than not it was enough. Um, you can have technical brilliance, you can have all these other things, but it's about just really understanding what the client wants and figuring out the journey, how how to do it. It's not about being aggressive. It's about just having focus, I guess, is to trying to get the very best outcome.
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Hannah: Yeah, and real empathy. I felt like really understanding that every single divorce is so different and you'll have very different challenges. So it's having that. I think there were plenty of times I used to call Jonathan and be like, This is going on and he must have been like, I'm not your agony aunt, but you know, he's there. He was there for me. And. Yeah, that felt like a really reassuring thing to have during like the most difficult time because there was times when I felt I couldn't speak to anybody else. So it's actually like a really, like, I guess, almost a privilege to support people through something that's so like one of the worst things you have to go through. Really.
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Joanne: It is. It's, um, it is. It's a very, it's very stressful for, for people going through that. It's one of the most difficult and challenging periods of their lives. And yeah, you're right, actually, to use that word, it's an honour and a privilege to help somebody come out the other end of that. That's actually the most satisfying part of the job is to see that journey, the roller coaster, the start of that very difficult journey and the highs and lows of it. But then to level out at the end of it is incredibly satisfying. And I guess that's why people like myself have had very long careers in family law because they like working with the difficult and challenging journeys. Every client has their own story. Every person is unique, and that's what makes it really quite a fascinating job. It's not transactional law. It's very different. Every person has their own story, and I guess if you like that and you like working with people, that's what makes it incredibly worthwhile.
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Hannah: Oh, lovely. So I should say before we start that you should not use Joanne's answers as legal advice. You should always seek advice from a lawyer, preferably Jo, before you make. Before you make any decisions. Jo has also started splitting up.com, which we've talked about before. But if you are just starting out on your journey, it's the perfect place to go and have a look and see what kind of help you might need. Because I personally felt when I started this, I was like, I do not know where to start because unless you're - you've been through a divorce, you just don't know about it. So I guess the first question would be, can you kind of take us back to basics and explain the requirements for a divorce?
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Joanne: Yeah, sure. Of course, Hannah. Um, I suppose thank goodness things have changed because up until 2020, people often used to have to wait years to get a divorce. They would have to either have a separation divorce, waiting for two years with consent or five years without consent. Um, or they would have to proceed on a blame basis, adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Whereas now a person can just file a notice to say that the marriage is irretrievably broken down without actually saying either party was to blame for it. So it's exactly the same as it was before the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. But you no longer have to use a particular reason for that. So it's removed that, um, shaming, blaming, naming. And for some people that was really important. You know, I understand that. But for many people it wasn't. Um, so it's removed that difficult layer of someone saying, well, we're not, we're not really getting on and haven't for quite a long time. We want to get divorced, but we don't want to wait two years. So what can we do? It can't really be lying about it. You can't lie about someone's unreasonable behaviour if they haven't committed it. So it was difficult really. So I think it was it was good that the law changed. Actually, the new no fault law came out in April last year, I think.
00:11:13 - 00:11:19
Hannah: Because before then you had to be living separately for two years. Is that right? And then you can file for a no blame divorce.
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Joanne: If the other party gave consent. So you would be apart for two years with consent of both parties. You could issue divorce. If one party wouldn't give consent, you would have to wait for five years unless you were able to proceed straight away on the basis of admitted adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
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Hannah: Okay. And now, because I thought you had to be living apart six months in order to apply for this.
00:11:43 - 00:12:47
Joanne: No no, not quite right. No. So it isn't so under the new system. It's not divorce on demand. People do have to still have to have time to make that decision. So there is a five month waiting period. Now, that's sort of that's part of the new law, really, after they make that initial application. So there's a really quite a long cooling off period, five months to wait. And then once you get to decree nisi stage, it's now called a conditional order decree nisi or law. You then have you're still six weeks and one day before you can finalise the divorce and get your final order. So the process is longer now than it was, and I think that's quite deliberate. It's just, I suppose what you don't want is people filing in haste, um, and then pushing through a divorce and then regretting it. So the process is now definitely longer than it was. I would say probably on average it's maybe 8 to 9 months now, whereas hitherto it would have been quicker than that if you were proceeding immediately with an unreasonable behaviour or an adultery petition. Obviously it would have taken longer if you'd had to wait for the separation rules of two years or five years.
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Hannah: Okay. I understand. And. So somebody asked, how long does a divorce take? But as you've explained there, it really depends on the circumstances.
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Joanne: Well, I mean, you know, because the the new no fault divorce came in in April last year, There's they're sort of starting to kind of be finalised now. Obviously, it takes a while, but it's difficult because there was a bit of a quite a lot of people, I guess, were waiting for the new no fault divorce to come in in April last year. So I guess some people were putting on hold issuing until the 6th of April. So I think there was a bit of a a surge on the 6th of April last year. So there's a bit of a backlog there, I guess, at court. But we're guessing it's about 8 to 9 months under the new legislation, which is the only legislation now from start to finish.
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Hannah: And that's assuming that all your finances have been agreed, the child care, you know, all those things.
00:13:45 - 00:15:11
Joanne: No. So just to explain. So the process, think of it like this. The process of divorce is ending the legality of the marriage. So from start to finish, it's probably now going to take about nine months. And probably a good analogy is to think of it like this. That you've got your, let's think of it as two trains on two parallel rail tracks. So you've got your divorce as one train starting off on the rail track, heading to the station and underneath on a parallel track you've got your financial train and maybe even you might have three trains, you might have a children's train, let's say finances. So you've got two parallel tracks. So you've got two trains running parallel to each other. So it's much better for the divorce and the financial process to terminate at the station together. But they don't have to. So you can start your divorce and nine months later be divorced. But you might not have dealt with the financial claims. So those financial claims can be resolved during the divorce, which of course is better. But some people haven't resolved the financial claims even many years after divorce. So part and parcel of the divorce process, you should consider the financial claims. But it's it's completely separate to the process of divorce. So that goes back to the two train analogy. You've got your divorce train and your financial train. They're separate but connected. Yeah. So the nine month period for divorce from start to finish is just in relation to the process of divorce. That's got nothing to do with the finances.
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Hannah: Yeah, because I think I was advised that if. We would hold off on finalising the divorce once we knew the finances were sorted. So therefore it's taken a lot longer. It's taken like two and a half years.
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Joanne: Yeah. So yes, there are reasons for that. So it kind of makes sense. You know, again, going back to the two train analogy, it makes sense really for the two trains to coincide at the station at the same time. So if it's going to take a while to sort the finances, essentially making that final order in the divorce process or the decree absolute under the old system, you would possibly just put it on hold until you've sorted your finances out. So the average time now is about nine months. But if you're going to put it on hold while you sort your finances out for sure, it could take a lot longer.
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Hannah: Yeah. That would be where we are. So is there such a thing as a quickie divorce? Because if you Google divorce it, it'll come up with things like online quickie divorce and things like that.
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Joanne: Well, I have seen and heard of some quick divorces, but I'm sort of thinking that probably what was meant by that under the old law was that a quick divorce probably would have been issuing on the basis of unreasonable behaviour or adultery because you could have done that straight away. Whereas otherwise under the old law, you would have to wait for two years or five years. So that's possibly what was meant by the quick divorce. You can get an expedited divorce so you can get a very quick expedited divorce rather than the standard time it takes for the divorce to complete if there were exceptional circumstances. So, for example, if somebody was terminally ill and their life expectancy was six weeks. So I have dealt with that where it was time critical with death being imminent that somebody wanted the divorce to come through. So in exceptional circumstances like that, the courts, the judges will sometimes consider an emergency expedited application to get the divorce through. But it has to be pretty exceptional. But when when you're Googling quickie divorce, I don't think that's really what they had. I don't think that's at all what they've got in mind. An application to expedite a divorce process because of very exceptional circumstances such as that. You have to make a specific application to the court and you should take legal advice. So if anybody's listening who's thinking, Well, I think I'll have a quickie, Um, you know, an expert. No, it's exceptional reasons for doing so.
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Hannah: Got you. And you'll always, like I always say, always get legal advice, especially regarding finances and all that kind of stuff.
00:17:44 - 00:18:19
Joanne: Yeah, well, there's many solicitors, including ourselves, offer an initial free consultation. It's something we've always done just to sort of guide people, give people information. So, you know, it's easy, isn't it really? There's lots of firms are offering initial free consultations, so why wouldn't you, you know, if someone's happy to give you some guidance. And essentially, when I have free consultations with clients, which I probably do an average 2 or 3 a day, every day, they tend to go away with a shopping list of things to do and to look for and information gathering before they would even consider starting a process. So why wouldn't you do that?
00:18:19 - 00:18:33
Hannah: Yeah, exactly. Doesn't make any sense. And I've got friends who had like the most amicable, friendly divorce going, but they still wanted to make sure everything was done by the book because you just you just never know. Like, you have to protect yourself.
00:18:34 - 00:20:24
Joanne: Yeah, well, I think if you're submitting your divorce yourself online. The application online yourself, the one of the questions it asks on the divorce petition on the first page is, do you intend to apply to the court for a financial order? Now, if parties have agreed that the financial terms between them, they may tick that box saying no, they don't want a financial order of the court. But the answer to that question should always really be yes, they do, because you have these financial claims by virtue of marriage, you need to end them and you can end them by consent for sure. So if essentially you've agreed terms what you're lodging to the court regarding the finances is an order by consent, a consent order, which essentially sets out the terms that you've agreed with your spouse for the approval of the judge. And if the judge considers those terms to be fair and equitable, then the court will make that order in the term sword. But a lot of people, when they were going online and doing their own divorce petitions from around about 2018, 2019 didn't answer that question correctly and said no, they don't intend to apply to the court for the final order, for a financial order, I should say. And so we're increasingly we must get a dozen, a dozen inquiries every week, every week from people saying, I was divorced two years ago. I was divorced three years ago, four years ago, and we don't have the financial order in place. And I didn't realise that all the financial claims against my ex spouse, they're still there. Claims in relation to property and pension and other assets. What do I do? So I think the public are getting more aware of the fact that you need to have the financial order. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about the train. You've got your divorce train, you've also got your financial train. You need to you need to consider both. They're not one, they're not the same. Divorce is simply process the finances. The financial claims need to be ended by an order of the court, hopefully by consent.
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Hannah: Yes. Definitely. Um, and I felt in my situation in particular. So I was the one at home and my partner was the one who was working that I really felt like I needed to get a better handle on the finances in general because I just didn't have anything to do with them.
00:20:44 - 00:21:19
Joanne: Yeah, and that's that's not uncommon. Often in marriage, as I often describe it with clients, somebody Chancellor of the Exchequer, someone deals with the finances in a marriage. And it's not always the husband, it can be the wife, but often it is the husband and there's an inequality of arms. One party doesn't have any understanding or knowledge or really any control over the finances, so therefore they really need to be assisted. And those are the most vulnerable and those are the clients that absolutely should have somebody doing those negotiations and gathering in the relevant information on their behalf, for sure.
00:21:19 - 00:21:30
Hannah: Yeah. And I think especially when it's high conflict, it's so helpful to have somebody on your team doing some of the batting back and forth. You know.
00:21:30 - 00:22:48
Joanne: I've sort of described it in the past sometimes to clients a bit, sort of like. You go to mediation and mediation, you're sitting together with the mediator, and mediation can be really helpful. It can work, especially if there's goodwill between the parties and the transparent with each other and they understand each other's affairs. There's no inequality of arms between them. So for me to broker an agreement at mediation and then simply get the lawyer to draft an agreed an agreed order is definitely the way forward. However, where there are inequalities in terms of financial inequalities or just in terms of control, then absolutely you're better off having the lawyer sitting in front of you and you're sitting behind the lawyer. And what I mean by that is you've got somebody who's fronting it for you and you're sitting behind you. You're kind of protected, aren't you? In that sense, mediation is more exposure because you're having to deal with it yourself next to your partner, which is great because it does work in many, many cases, but in some cases it won't work and you haven't got the confidence you need that support. And that's really what the lawyer does. They're there to deal with it for you. They're there to take the stress away from you. You're not expected to do that for sure. You have to pay for it. But you know, you get what you pay for in those circumstances.
00:22:48 - 00:22:58
Hannah: Definitely. And it's what you don't know as well. Like all the little intricacies of no, this is what you're entitled to, but you don't know until you're speaking to somebody who's an expert.
00:22:58 - 00:23:00
Joanne: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
00:23:01 - 00:24:22
Hannah: Thank you so much to Joanne for so many interesting facts and nuggets about divorce. As I point out, unless you've been through the process, it can really feel just so alien and very confusing at the beginning. I know because I've been through it, but I really hope that this has been helpful and brought some clarity to what some of you may be going through. We have Split Jo's episode into two parts, and the second part will be live in two weeks, where Joe is answering questions on - can you refuse to sign divorce papers? Is it possible to divorce without going to court? How are assets divided? And she also gives some amazing advice about how to cope when there's children involved. So it's all really incredibly helpful. And I would just say be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss it. Thank you so much for listening and I'll see you next time for another episode of Happily Ever After with me, Hannah Harvey. It would be wonderful if you could leave a review and subscribe. And of course, if you've got a friend who might enjoy this episode, then please do pass it on for anything else. You can get in touch with me through either Instagram @Mumsdays or through my website Mums' Days dot com.