Most couples seeking a divorce do not set out with a desire to go to court. In fact, a key concern that we for many of my clients is the desire to avoid protracted and expensive court proceedings, giving them a speedy end to their divorce.
And there are lots of different approaches to choose from so we asked Sarah Snow, Partner at our London Victoria office to join us on the blog to look at the different options to keeping your divorce out of court.
In the first part of the article, she looks at mediation and collaborative law.
The term divorce immediately conjures up the image of embattled ex-spouses engaged in hostile and aggressive court proceedings, which take many months and cost thousands of pounds. It doesn’t always have to be this way and below I explore the various Alternative (or Appropriate) Dispute Resolution (ADR) options which divorcing couples would be wise to consider.
First off, it is important to stress that parties will largely only engage in court proceedings if they are unable to resolve financial matters at an early stage in the process and by agreement. Unless contested, it is quite common for parties to never step foot inside the courtroom, instead, securing their divorce via a post based or online process.
Financial matters can also be resolved voluntarily between parties and an agreement drawn up and put before the court in the form of a Financial Remedy Consent Order, again without either party having to attend a hearing. The problem arises when parties are unable to reach an agreement and therefore one makes an application for a Financial Remedy Order, thus starts the long and stressful divorce process. How then do you avoid such an application?
The basis of avoiding court comes from a joint intention from both parties to adopt an amicable approach and be willing to engage in constructive, productive dialogue recognising that reasonable compromises will have to be made on both sides.
With the intention in place, an approach of ADR is a very viable alternative. But what does the term mean?
In its simplest terms, ADR is a way of resolving disputes without going to court. There are many different methods and approaches that can be adopted when looking to resolve financial matters and achieve an amicable settlement. These include the following:
Mediation is a structured and interactive process where a neutral third-party assists divorcing parties in resolving the conflict. The trained mediator will use specialist communication and negotiation techniques to encourage parties to actively participate in the process and look at a variety of settlement options. The mediator will initially meet with each party individually to gain an understanding of what they are seeking to achieve. They will then be asked to prepare financial disclosure before meeting again on a joint basis.
Once the full financial picture has been ascertained then parties can discuss fair and reasonable settlement options. All negotiations and discussions take place on a Without Prejudice basis, which means if matters do not settle and an application to the court is made, the court will not be made aware of the proposals made. This means that parties can freely make proposals without the risk of their “bottom line” being exposed to the court later.
If engaged in productively and with a genuine desire to resolve matters, mediation can be hugely successful and beneficial for parties. Particularly divorcing couples who have children and need to maintain an amicable co-parenting relationship moving forward.
It is important to be aware however that whilst mediators may also be legally trained family lawyers, they are not able to provide legal advice. Therefore, I would recommend that both parties should instruct a solicitor to work with them alongside the process and provide ongoing advice as to the suitability or fairness of the proposals being made in mediation.
Collaborative law is a process founded in America in 1990 and launched in the UK in 2003 and involves divorcing couples working with their solicitor and if required, an independent financial advisor, accountant, child specialist and family consultant to reach a voluntary settlement with the aim of avoiding the uncertain outcome of court. The key goal is to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children in a safe space without the underlying threat of going to court.
When dealing with the financial issues and trying to reach a settlement, both parties engage in four-way meetings with both of their lawyers present to first obtain a full picture of the matrimonial finances and thereafter engage in negotiations. The aim is to ensure that everyone is vested in the process with the clear aim of resolving matters without involving the courts.
If an agreement is made, both parties sign an agreement committing to the collaborative process and resolving matters without going to court. The solicitors you instruct in the collaborative process will not be able to attend court on your behalf if, for any reason, the process breaks down and an application to the court must be made.
Parties must be completely prepared to engage in the process and be committed to it. It is essential that parties are transparent and if there is a reason to suspect that one party is being secretive with financial matters there is no power to compel disclosure. However, many couples simply want to get matters sorted out, are willing to co-operate with each other and hope to find solutions in a constructive manner. The collaborative process enables couples to consider the other party’s point of view and share ideas in an open way that will encourage creative and mutually acceptable solutions to be found Often just listening to what the other party has to say can help cut through any suspicions about motives or agendas.
Like mediation, being willing to meet and discuss matters face to face is not an easy option. It can be difficult and emotions can run high, but if you are able to resolve matters by agreement, with the support of trained collaborative lawyers it is far more likely to be longer lasting and lead to a better future relationship, essential if you have children, than one where the Court or an arbitrator has imposed the outcome on you.
Get in touch
We have a number of mediators and lawyers who are experienced at advising clients going through the mediation process and also a number of qualified collaborative lawyers. For more advice on how to keep your divorce out of court you can contact our Client Care Team here or at the number below.
In how to keep divorce out of court – Part two Sarah will look at arbitration and negotiation.