Collaborative Law and Family Mediation
Divorce rarely requires actually going to Court. Bitter and aggressive negotiations can increase the amount of conflict in the situation and is not good for you or your children. Instead of going to Court you can choose to deal with the legal consequences of your separation or divorce using mediation, collaborative law or arbitration. These processes allow you and your former partner to talk through your problems together with professional support and advice. The aim is to work out solutions that are right for you and your family with the right amount of professional support that you need.
These options can give you greater control over the pace and final outcome whereas with Court Proceedings that control is taken away from you and ultimately a decision is imposed by a Judge. Alternatively you can choose to negotiate a settlement in a more traditional way through your solicitors but whilst still maintaining an amicable relationship with your former partner.
Mediation helps couples work together and reach agreed conclusions but is not a form of marriage guidance or counselling. It is not intended to help a couple have a reconciliation but does help a couple decide how to end their relationship.
A trained mediator will assist you and your former partner talk through the issues in relation to money, your children or a combination of both. Solutions are sought over a number of meetings although the number of meetings you require will depend upon your own particular requirements and circumstances.
Most people attending mediation will also have their own Solicitor to take advice from during the process although that Solicitor will not be present at the mediation meetings but can be there if you wish. It is important to make sure that any agreement reached is fair and put into a Court Order that is legally binding.
Legal aid is still available for mediation where a couple are financially eligible whereas generally legal aid is not available for taking legal advice from a Solicitor. Before starting any Court Application an assessment would normally have to be carried out as to whether mediation would be more appropriate than a Court process and this is called a MIAM (mediation information and assessment meeting). Mediation is voluntary and neither you nor your former partner can be forced to attend.
Collaborative law is a process where decisions are made at a series of joint meetings involving you, your former partner and your respective collaborative lawyers. Each lawyer is specially trained to deal with the situation in a more constructive and less adversarial manner. You are in full control of how and when the meetings take place.
The number of meetings that will be needed will depend upon the issues to be resolved. During each meeting you will have support and legal advice with the aim of reaching a practical and amicable solution that will benefit you, your former partner and your children. It is possible that you could take into account factors that a Court might not strictly be entitled to consider in arriving at a financial settlement that is better for the entire family.
You will be able to decide which topics to focus on and whether to involve other experts such as a Financial Adviser or Accountant where necessary.
Family arbitration is a way of a decision being given on any issues you have with your former partner as an alternative to a Judge making that decision. Like a Judge the Arbitrator will make sure that all of the relevant information is collected and will obtain what evidence is needed to be taken into account and then arrive at an "award".
Both you and your partner must agree to use arbitration before this can be used although there is a great deal of flexibility about the way in which the arbitration is run and timescales.
Negotiating your own agreement can be the cheapest and easiest way to reach a settlement following the ending of a relationship. This option is not suitable for everyone but may well work well if you remain on good terms and broadly agree on the issues. If you use this approach it is still important to take legal advice to make sure that you understand the implications of your agreement and that it is legally binding. Having legal advice and support in respect of financial issues can be particularly helpful to avoid making mistakes that you regret in the future.
If mediation, collaborative law or arbitration are not for you it is still possible that your Solicitor can negotiate an agreement. Outcomes often depend on what your Solicitor would expect would be the outcome of a Court process and the likely decision that would be made by a Judge if that approach had to be taken.
Ultimately if an agreement cannot be reached a Judge can make a decision but a Court Application is usually the last resort – and the most expensive!
To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our dedicated Family Law solicitors will be delighted to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.