Local legal experts discuss dilemmas that arise for separating couples

Local legal experts discuss dilemmas that arise for separating couples

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When divorce law is mentioned most people think of aggressive solicitors, suited and booted or ‘rottweilers’ with lipstick’ carving up the assets of a marriage and fighting to get the largest financial settlement for their client. This is the image that is most often portrayed in the media in high profile cases involving celebrities and the super-wealthy.

The decision to divorce is rarely taken lightly. People are now more likely to investigate their options as to how to finalise the arrangements for themselves and their families when they have come to the conclusion that their marriage is to end.

Traditional court based resolutionClearly the traditional court-based approach is required in some cases. Where there can be no meaningful communication between parties it is important that they have the necessary support and expert legal advice as they move through the divorce process.Many family lawyers are members of Resolution formerly the Solicitor Family Law Association. The code of Practice of Resolution requires members to deal with matters in as conciliatory a way as possible and not to deliberately inflame what is already a difficult situation for their clients. More often than not negotiations between solicitors, in accordance with their clients’ instructions, leads to settlement of the financial aspects of divorce without needing to attend a fully contested final hearing at which a judge will make the final decision.

Do-it-yourselfSome couples will choose not to involve lawyers at all, instead choosing to reach their own decisions, around their kitchen table. It is always necessary to involve the courts in divorce proceedings themselves but individuals can act on their own behalf in straightforward cases. It is always advisable to obtain a Consent Order as part of such a divorce to finalise once and for all any agreement about financial arrangements. This gives certainty for the future.

MediationMediation is an option chosen by people who feel they are able to negotiate an agreement about their family circumstances. This involves both parties to the marriage talking to each other with the input of a trained, independent, third party who helps them to finalise their agreement in relation to a divorce, arrangements for children and finances. Both parties are then encouraged to seek their own independent legal advice to formalise the agreement and obtain final Orders from the court, again by consent. Some mediators are also qualified family solicitors so they are aware of the legal framework but do not give advice to either one of the parties as they maintain their independent position.

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Collaborative LawAnother option that is growing in popularity is that of Collaborative Law.This is the process in which both partners, together with their specially trained Collaborative Family Lawyers commit to resolving all aspects of their separation and divorce without involving the formal legal process or the courts, except to formalise final agreements.Discussions take place at informal ‘4-way’ meetings that can include other neutral experts such as family therapists, accountants or financial advisers as needed or requested by either party.

The Collaborative approach is very much led by the requirements of the particular individuals involved. The clients decide on their own priorities and this leads to their own tailor made solutions for their unique family situation.There is no ‘one size fits all’ way of resolving the issues which arise on the breakdown of a relationship. There are now more options available than ever before. The advice of a specialist family solicitor is vital from the outset to help you decide which option is best for you and your family.

For further advice contact Beverley McCluskey, left, and Louise Richardson, at Hague Lambert on 01565 652411.

Solicitors’ comments...

This article fully details all the options available to couples who have decided to separate. Using this guide every couple should be able to decide on which option is the most appropriate one for them. The most important aspect to note is that family lawyers are there to assist and advise upon financial settlements and divorce does not have to be acrimonious.Victoria RichardsonFamily Law PartnerMcHale and Co19-21 High StreetAltrinchamWA14 1QP

Whether you choose to go through the courts, to look at mediation or collaborative law, divorce is never easy. The important thing is to reach a fair settlement quickly to avoid proceedings dragging out over a long period of time. While you can indeed manage your own divorce, the process is complicated so seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity is highly recommended.Emily Norman, Solicitor,Family Law – 01270 761 111,Emily.norman@tinsdills.co.uk

There is a range of resolution options available for separating couples; so many that family support organisations, including Resolution, refer to them simply as Dispute Resolution options, rather than Alternative Dispute Resolution. There is nothing ‘alternative’ about these options; increasingly they are the norm. Arbitration has recently been added to the list; a third party arbitrator reviews both party’s evidence and makes a decision that is legally binding for both sides.Janet Baines, Arbitrator,Mediator and PartnerFamily and Divorce DepartmentWalker Smith Way solicitorsjbaines@walkersmithway.com0844 346 3147www.walkersmithway.com

On any relationship breakdown it is most important that couples choose the method most appropriate for them, to resolve issues between them. However it is important to be flexible. Circumstances may change and matters become more complicated. A change of approach may then be needed.

In every case specialist legal advice is essential particularly in resolving financial issues which will have a lifelong impact for both parties.T: 0845 073 9900carole.atkinson@weightmans.comwww.weightmans.com

As a potential divorcee, your circumstances and situation are unique and you will have your own priorities.The process, financial outcomes and the wider implications for children and ongoing family relationships can vary enormously depending on the option you choose. It is therefore in your interest to get advice from an experienced Family lawyer.Beverley Darwent is a Partner at Pannone LLP, 123 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BU.beverley.darwent@pannone.co.ukwww.pannone.com

Whether you agree a settlement via mediation, collaborative law or court proceedings, it is paramount that you get the correct representation. You need a specialist solicitor, who can represent you and achieve a fair settlement. While a client may have different needs; it is important you have a solicitor that has good negotiating skills and acts with discretion and sensitivity.Lorraine Harvey, Principal Lawyer (Partner) at Slater & Gordon Lawyers on 0161 383 3650 or LHarvey@rjwslatergordon.co.uk.Offices in Manchester and Bramhall.