The concept of a “Good Divorce Week” may seem odd, but family law solicitors’ association Resolution is keen to raise awareness that resolving the legal issues arising on divorce can be a constructive process which reduces acrimony. This year, Good Divorce Week is focused on the crisis in the family courts, and the variety of other options for resolving disputes arising on divorce.
The latest government figures put the family court backlog at 110,000 cases. Whilst there have been delays in the family court for years, they are now having a seriously detrimental impact on many of the families using the court system. We have recently waited eight months to receive a date for the next court hearing in a financial case on divorce, leaving the parties in limbo whilst also increasing their costs as they now must obtain updated property valuations and reports, and manage their interim arrangements. In a children matter, an application we sent to the court relating to summer holiday arrangements was never processed and considered despite our chasing, denying the parties access to justice. In another case, we have been told that it will take two months for the court to search for a copy of a client’s Decree Absolute, putting his remarriage plans on hold.
Hopefully, Resolution’s campaign to raise awareness of the dire situation in the family court will result in greater investment and improvements. In practice, a rapid improvement is unlikely, and separating couples should be aware of the full range of options for resolving disputes around their finances or the arrangements for their children. Beyond avoiding delay, the advantages of non-court options include reducing acrimony, lower costs, privacy and autonomy. Of course, where there has been domestic abuse these processes may be unsuitable and the protection available through court-ordered injunctions may be needed.
For separating couples keen to work together to reach an amicable resolution, “Resolution Together” is an exciting new option which Hunters will be offering from December, with our Head of Department Henry Hood in the first cohort of lawyers to train in the process. In Resolution Together, one lawyer advises both parties on the legal issues arising on their separation, guiding them through the process and facilitating their settlement discussions. The advice will cover how the law applies to their circumstances, including an indication of the range of likely outcomes if the matter were to proceed to court. Whilst not suitable for all separating couples, Resolution Together will offer those who want to work together to reach an agreement informed by legal advice a cost-effective, flexible option.
Traditionally, lawyers have not been able to advise both parties on divorce because it has been considered that the parties’ interests conflict. Resolution Together recognises that in some – but by no means all – cases, the parties’ interests are aligned, because both want to find a solution which will work for their family achieved through a flexible, cost-effective process which enhances their ability to maintain a constructive relationship. In such cases, one lawyer can act in the interests of both parties. A thorough screening process will ensure that Resolution Together is not offered where there has been abuse, where there is a significant power imbalance, or where one party is being pressured into using the process.
Resolution Together joins a plethora of other non-court processes, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, and it is important to work with your solicitor to create a bespoke process suited to your circumstances. There are many elements which can be incorporated:
- Negotiations through solicitors: using letters, phone calls and/or meetings, the parties’ solicitors negotiate in accordance with their clients’ instructions.
- Round table negotiations: the parties and their solicitors together attend a series of negotiation meetings; “collaborative law” is one version of this.
- Mediation: a trained, neutral mediator facilitates discussion between the parties; the mediator cannot give legal advice and each party should have their own lawyer to advise between sessions. Alternatively, in “hybrid mediation”, the parties and their solicitors are in separate rooms, and the mediator moves between them seeking to broker a settlement.
- Private Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment or Early Neutral Evaluation: an experienced specialist barrister considers both parties’ positions as presented by their lawyers and gives their view on the likely outcome to assist in the progress of negotiations.
- Arbitration: a specially trained family lawyer is appointed by the parties to make a binding decision on the case or an aspect of it.
Resolution Together is a welcome addition to the range of tools available to family lawyers to meet our clients’ needs and expectations. If you would like to know more, please contact Henry Hood on Henry.Hood@hunterslaw.com or 020 7412 0050.