Q. My husband and I have decided to split up. We're still living in the same house but we've put it on the market.
On the face of it, it should be easy to work out how to separate the various aspects of our lives and move on but we can't seem to agree on anything. My husband has earned much more during our 25 years together but I worked part-time, brought up the children and run the house. I feel I'm entitled to a fair share of the money from the sale.
I've never been able to pay into a pension because I wasn't earning enough. My husband as earned a lot – partly because I was running the home – and he must have a big pension. I feel that I should be entitled to a share of that too. However, my husband says he's earned more, paid for our home and should get the majority of the proceeds of the sale. He also says he's entitled to keep his pension. I don't really want to go to a solicitor as I can't afford the fees, but I feel my husband is being greedy and unfair and trying to make out that I've contributed nothing.
A. It can cost a lot of money to involve solicitors. Once you see a solicitor it's likely that your husband will feel he must see one too. The money you both spend will come out of any money there is left to be divided up at the end of the negotiations. However, you really do need to know where you stand and what you can expect to get.
A good solicitor won't prolong negotiations, will work for a quick settlement and will aim to get everything resolved without having to go to court. He or she will go through your assets, ask your husband's solicitor for details of his assets and negotiate a realistic and fair settlement where you don't end up simply giving in to your husband's demands. You are entitled to a fair share of the family home and to a share in his pension. The tricky thing is to remain on speaking terms while the settlement is being negotiated, which is hard while you're both still living in the same house. You also have to be realistic; think about what you would consider fair and accept that you might have to take a bit less.
Keep the solicitor's bills down as far as possible by doing as much of the work yourself as you can such as compiling all the necessary paperwork. Don't use your solicitor as an emotional crutch – cry on a friend's shoulder, not the solicitor's because the solicitor charges for tissues. Take someone with you to legal appointments because you won't remember everything that's said and will end up going over the same ground. Be firm with your solicitor. He or she will be fighting your corner but if you're satisfied with any outcome and don't want to fight for more, you have to be strong enough to get your solicitor to accept your decision.
The place to start is at your local advice centre. Charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau have good relationships with solicitors and know who is experienced in this area of law. They will probably be able to arrange a free initial interview for you so that you have an idea how things might work out. The big problem is that, while your solicitor is believing everything you say and fighting for you, your husband's solicitor will be doing the same. Do you think your husband might consider the cheaper route of mediation? Mediation isn't about trying to persuade the two of you to get back together. A trained mediator helps you both, together, to reach your own fair and acceptable settlement without involving the courts. Ask your advice centre about mediation services in your area or try familymediationhelpline.co.uk.
If your case does reach the point where the courts become involved, you will be referred to mediation and, although it's not compulsory, the Government wants couples to consider using it. It's an alternative worth thinking about.
Q. I paid a £1,500 deposit on a new kitchen a few weeks ago, and just as the job was due to start the company went bust. It's a small local firm so I don't suppose anyone is likely to step in and honour the outstanding orders. How do I go about getting my money back?
A. You may not get your money back. You will probably be one of a long line of creditors who are owed money. Some of those such as HM Revenue and Customs come well ahead of you in the priority list. You need to find out more about the firm's situation. It may not have gone bust but could be in administration where someone has been brought in to try to save it and clear the debts while working out how it could continue trading. If that's the case, you can find out who the administrator is. It's likely to be a local firm of accountants. Talk to your local trading standards department at the local council or your local advice centre and ask local accountants. If the firm really has gone out of business with no assets or money, you may lose everything.
You don't say how you paid the deposit. If you paid by credit card your card company has joint liability in cases where the goods don't arrive and you can't get your money back. Talk to your card issuer. If you paid cash you may have to wave goodbye.