I am a family lawyer and mediator. If I introduce myself as a divorce lawyer perhaps you would already have a view of how a family lawyer should speak and behave and you might even be forgiven for letting out a groan. I am on a mission to change the way in which you look at family lawyers and what we do.
You may have an idea of a family lawyer as someone wanting to make money out of people’s sadness. You may not want to go and see a solicitor out of fear that we will encourage you to go to Court. You may worry that your divorce will take years to complete and cost you thousands of pounds.
I would not blame you for thinking that. Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing family law professionals is the notion in the media, mainly involving celebrities consulting lawyers, never mediators or collaborative practitioners and the divorce process being likened to a Court battle. Soap characters talk about taking each other to Court to custody. The same with media portrayal has occurred for years. The reality is that family law and divorce has moved on and I am on a mission as are many of my fellow dispute resolution professionals to help dispel the myth of a traditional lawyer and to help people understand that you do not need to go to Court to settle your divorce or separation.
You could reach an agreement between you and ask solicitors to review your agreement to ensure that you understand your rights and the full implications of any agreements and decisions that you make.
You could attend mediation. Mediators are trained to help resolve disputes over all issues faced by divorcing and separating couples, or specific issues such as arrangements for the children. A mediator will meet with you and your partner together and will identify those issues that you cannot agree on and help you to try and reach agreement.
You could deal with matters through collaborative lawyer. Under the collaborative law process each person appoints their own collaboratively trained lawyer and you and your respective lawyers all meet together to work things out face to face. Both of you will have your lawyer by your side throughout the process and so you will have their legal support and advice as you go. You are your lawyer signs and agreement that commits you to trying to resolve the issues without going to Court and prevents them from representing you in Court if the collaborative process breaks down. That means that all are absolutely committed to finding the best solutions by agreement rather than through Court proceedings.
You could also appoint an arbitrator. In family arbitration the arbitrator will make a decision that will be final and binding between you on any financial and property disputes arising from the family relationship. The same arbitrator will deal with all stages of your case from start to finish and will then make a decision. The timetable is up to you and your partner to agree so there is flexibility as to the time and place of the hearing and it was developed recently to enable parties to resolve financial disputes more quickly, confidentially, cheaply and in a more flexible and less formal setting than a Court room.
You could also attend a Separated Parents Information Programme.
These processes often seem like a soft option but the reality is that they are not. They are emotionally draining and tough but they often create the most rewarding outcomes at a fraction of the cost or time it will take to go to Court.
I recently heard a collaborative lawyer remark that after the collaborative process a couple who had not spoken to each other for years were able to have a conversation with one another and even went to the pub together after the collaborative law process had ended. It was remarkable in this case that this couple had this experience.
Another couple who recently mediated with me were able to resolve their financial matters after two mediation meetings commented as follows: “Neither of us knew what to expect from mediation and we both feel that your professional and empathic approach helped us to reach a resolution in a relatively quick and bearable way. Neither of us would hesitate in recommending you to others. We could not have chosen anyone better.” The creative, powerful but equally robust work that can be done for couple in mediation, collaborative law and arbitration is worth shouting about. If you wish to find out more about any of these alternatives ways to divorce, please contact me for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting.
Clare Madeline Mediation