Lisa Pepper of Osbornes shows how couples can work together for the greater good.
ANYONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED a divorce through the Court process will very likely have an unpleasant experience or two to share at the end of it. Many couples at the outset of proceedings fail to realise that if they choose to fight it out through the courts to the bitter end, their case can take up to two years to come to final trial, at which they will be cross-examined on oath in the witness box, the minutiae of their lives picked over and noted down by strangers. And they will have to pay for it – not only in terms of legal costs, but in terms of the order a Judge makes which may not be favourable to them; they will have no say in the final settlement at that stage, that will be for the Judge to decide.
At the outset, there is a whole host of questions which run through someone’s mind when contemplating divorce: how to have that discussion with their spouse (if they haven’t already), the repercussions for the family, how to choose a divorce lawyer, the cost, and whether matters will end up in Court. This article is to explain that the Court process is by no means inevitable; a couple can divorce without tearing family relationships apart and eyeing each other from opposite sides of a Court room.
In recent years, a process known as Collaborative Law has become increasingly popular for divorcing couples. Collaborative Law is a way to progress to an agreement with your spouse on divorce (be that with regards to a financial settlement or matters concerning the children), where you both agree that you will not go to Court to resolve matters. If the process ultimately fails, i.e. you cannot reach an agreement and you have to resort to traditional Court proceedings, then you have to sack your lawyers and start again. The benefit of this is that both you, your spouse and the lawyers have a vested interest in making it work.
Many readers will be aware that since 27 April 2009, the press are able to be present during family court proceedings including final trials concerning the family finances. Collaborative law enables couples to step away from such intrusion into private family life.
How does Collaborative Law work?
Negotiations are by way of face to face meetings with you, your spouse and your lawyers being present. You and your spouse dictate the pace and set the agenda. There are as many meetings as you both want in order to settle matters. Your divorce lawyers are facilitators and advisers to you both. This requires divorcing clients and their lawyers to look at the whole divorce process very differently. There is no longer ‘the other side’ mentality – positions, secrecy, game plans etc are all swept away. You both still need to set out your financial situation with evidence, but the two of you agree with your lawyers what documentation you need to see. Further more, any advice given is open within those meetings. The lawyers are working as a team, to assist you both. Potential scenarios such as a division of assets in a certain way, are tested in the meeting, such as “what if Helen got X and John got Y, what would their futures look like?”.
The end result is that you and your spouse will reach an agreement which you are both comfortable with. Divorce is never easy, but by using the collaborative approach you are more likely to have a relationship at the conclusion of matters which can continue, for the benefits of you both and your families, particularly any children. It is fair to say that not all collaborative meetings run smoothly: there are arguments, sometimes tears, someone storming out – but that is all part of the natural process of a couple going through the emotions of separation and the associated fears of the future. The benefits to you and your family in using the collaborative process on separation are immeasurable.
Lisa Pepper is an Associate Solicitor at Osbornes and a qualified Collaborative Lawyer. She is a member of Resolution which is an organisation of 4,700 lawyers and family justice professionals who believe in a constructive, non confrontational approach to family law matters, and Chairman of Young Resolution for London. Lisa is a regular speaker at the London College of Law and mentors a student there each year. She can be contacted on 020 7485 8811 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 020 7485 8811 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org