You have a number of options open to you when you are considering how to resolve your finances or arrangements for your children.
Negotiation without Solicitors
Whilst it is unwise to finalise an agreement without taking legal advice, there are many routes to seeking advice and many do not require an ongoing 'retainer' or commitment to paying for an unspecified number of hours worked at £300 per hour.
If you are comfortable taking charge of your own negotiations, it is certainly possible to put together a summary of your finances and of what you have agreed for a solicitor to advise on.
Family mediation is where an independent, trained professional helps you and your ex to work out agreements for your children or your finances. They can assist you to create a parenting plan or help you to figure out which financial documents to base your decisions on. They will also be able to recommend a lawyer who will be able to record your agreements into a legal document. You retain control of the decisions made and keep costs to a minimum in mediation.
Early Neutral Evaluation
If you are struggling to come to an agreement and would both benefit from an indication of how the court would be likely to view your circumstances, you can instruct a senior lawyer who is trained to give early neutral evaluations to carry this out for you. This is a non-binding procedure which often assists people to come to a settlement shortly afterwards.
Arbitration is distinct from mediation, in that it involves appointing an arbitrator to make a decision on any financial and property issues arising from the breakdown of your relationship (ie. rather than reaching a mutual agreement).
Using a Divorce Solicitor
Using a solicitor can be expensive, but a solicitor will manage all stages of the divorce. It may be necessary to use a solicitor where there are tricky issues involved and unresolved disputes. Often they will be able to help you achieve a divorce without the involvement of the court (other than granting the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute).
Collaboratively Trained Solicitors
Collaborative practice is where two parties are both represented by collaboratively trained solicitors who sign an agreement, along with the parties, to work collaboratively to come up with a joint solution to family finances. This removes the adversarial nature of working with solicitors as both solicitors are working together collaboratively, rather than adversarially, to find the best solution for the family as a whole.
Going to Court
Going to court can be costly and may involve using a barrister if the case goes to final hearing before a judge. However, if you and your partner are unable to negotiate (such as in cases of domestic violence, or where your partner refuses to disclose assets) it may be necessary to apply to the court for a financial order.
You will need to at least have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before taking any divorce dispute to court. If after your MIAM, if it is decided that mediation is not suitable for your case, the court will allow proceedings to be issued.