By Richard Bebb, 11th September 2020
Family law has changed a great deal in the 21st century. It’s 20 years since the landmark case of White v White ruled that there was to be no discrimination between the breadwinner and the homemaker when considering a fair financial settlement on divorce. In the same year, pension sharing on divorce became possible. Since then – among other developments - we’ve had civil partnerships for both gay and straight couples, same-sex marriage, gender recognition, and 2021 looks set to end 50 years of the blame game by introducing no-fault divorce.
Lawyers of a certain vintage will recall that family law used to be approached as litigation, with battle routinely done in the courts about money, children and sometimes anything the couple could think of to fight over. Sometimes it’s still necessary to go to court, but one very welcome development in recent years has been the growth of constructive solutions to contentious problems and the concept of ‘alternative dispute resolution’ – in other words, finding a way to resolve family problems without having to involve judges and courtrooms. Prominent among these is the collaborative approach. So what is it?
The process encourages divorcing or separating couples to work together with the support of specially trained lawyers, communicating effectively to achieve certain goals. It promotes respect between the parties, places the needs of children first, and keeps control of the agenda and the process with the couple rather than handing it to a judge.
An integral aspect is that everyone signs an agreement at the outset, confirming they will not go to court. A series of meetings (which can be face-to-face, or virtual if there are covid concerns) then takes place involving both parties and their lawyers – and often other specialist advisers such as accountants, pension experts and therapists. Each person has the support, protection and guidance of their own lawyer throughout.
The collaborative approach encourages communication and the full disclosure of facts identifying possible ‘flashpoints’. Lawyers then aim to guide couples to a settlement. It helps to prevent parties becoming too positional, and promotes creative solutions.
What are the benefits of collaborative law?
The process can:
- Reduce the emotional strain on families
- Provide couples with support and enable them to build a better relationship after separation
- Protect children from disputes
- Avoid the uncertainty - and cost - of litigation.
The collaborative process relies on couples who can work together in an open and co-operative manner. It’s not for everyone. If there are issues of domestic abuse, coercive control or child safeguarding, it’s unlikely to be suitable, and experienced family lawyers screen cases carefully. However, it will succeed if you and your partner agree that you want:
- An amicable, respectful resolution of your issues
- The opportunity to negotiate and agree your own joint decisions about financial and childcare arrangements
- To establish a mutually beneficial co-parenting relationship
- To protect children from hostility and disruption.
How Goughs can support you
The family law team at Goughs includes three senior collaborative lawyers who will be very pleased to work with you and your spouse or partner in a fashion committed to ensuring that, as far as possible, there’s a ‘good divorce’. We know from experience that such an outcome is very empowering and beneficial for the whole family, and we will be pleased to explore all your options with you.