This week is “Good Divorce Week” and the focus is on the overstretched Family Court.
Anyone that has had dealings with the Family Court will be aware of the cost, stress and huge delays that can be faced by a litigant. The Court is quite simply swamped. However, Court does not always have to be the answer to resolving a dispute when a couple separate.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division has recently stressed the importance of mediation in disputes involving children and financial matters on divorce. He feels that there is a misunderstanding as to what mediation actually is and there is a strong call for an overhaul of the system. His message is “Almost anything but the Family Court”.
We consider some of the alternatives to Court that could save money, time and stress for all concerned.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a safe place where negotiations can be held directly between the couple with the help of a trained Mediator to support those discussions. The aim of negotiation is for any legal issues in dispute to be resolved or at least the issues narrowed. It is NOT a way of repairing the relationship but looks to find common ground to help a couple reach agreement over the issues arising from separation.
What if I can’t stand being in the same room as my ex-partner?
If you do not feel able to be in the same room as your ex-partner, shuttle mediation may be the answer. This means that, whilst you can benefit from the experience of mediation to resolve issues, you do not need to come face to face and can be in separate rooms. That can be virtual or physical “rooms”.
Can children be involved?
Yes, sometimes they can; depending on the training of the mediator and the age of the children. The child would meet independently with a mediator. The child’s wishes and views would then be fed back to the parents.
Do I still need a lawyer?
Lawyers are not directly involved in the mediation process, but can offer help and support while mediation is going ahead. If agreement is reached lawyers will need to be involved in making sure any agreement reached is enforceable, but even before then they can give advice to support you reaching creative solutions.
Is Legal Aid available for mediation?
Legal aid is still available if you are financially eligible to meet the cost of mediation and, if agreement is reached, in paying a lawyer to get the agreement converted into an order approved by the Court.
Family Mediation Vouchers may also be available.
Many couples successfully reach agreement out of court, often with lawyers helping the negotiation process. You do not even necessarily need a lawyer, you could negotiate yourself with your ex-partner but should always seek legal guidance on how to formalise matters. There really is no one size fits all solution. Often early and supportive legal advice can help a separating couple “do it themselves”. By doing it yourself, you would certainly save legal fees and unnecessary hostility.
As an alternative to both lawyer negotiation and mediation, there is another process known as collaborative law. Both parties would need to enlist the services of a specialist Collaborative Lawyer and would work together to find solutions, through a series of round table – four-way meetings. This process has proved to be highly successful.
There is no hard and fast answer; it depends on you and your ex-partner and how committed you are to avoid the delay, expense and acrimony of Court. Getting early and tailored advice to your specific situation will help you chose the process that is right for you. At Watkins and Gunn we offer a “Blueprint” package. This is tailored advice and information you need to be able to plan your next steps and your future
All of our Family Law team are committed members of Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way and who are behind “Good Divorce Week”. In every case, we consider all alternative methods of dispute resolution prior to advising an application is made to the Court. Inevitably, there will be cases where Court is necessary, but this is not true for every matter that ends up in Court. One thing is for certain though, at Watkins and Gunn we always have the best interests of our clients a heart, with the objective in every case being to reach a conclusion as amicably and cost effectively as possible.
Katie O’Connell is a Family Law Solicitor at Watkins & Gunn.
“Katie was unfailingly patient, polite and professional…she went above and beyond what would be expected” – Family Law Barrister
For further information contact the Family Law team.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.