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The options for resolving family law issues

View profile for Karen Johnson
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When a relationship breaks down, numerous issues arise such as;

  • where both of you and the children will live
  • how you will manage the arrangements for the children
  • how the assets should be divided
  • how, and if, the separation should be formalised by divorce and if so, on what grounds

These can, understandably, be extremely emotive issues and this is only likely to be exacerbated by the emotional impact of the decision to separate. No one goes into a relationship wanting it to fail and if it does, it is natural that you will both grieve the lost relationship, which can include anger, denial and sadness. You might feel that you want to lash out, whether through fear of what is to come, or to get back at someone you feel has hurt you.

Getting early advice from a specialist family solicitor can be key, as we can provide you with practical, tailored advice as to where you stand and what your options are going forwards. You might well know a friend of a friend that has gone through a similar situation, however, family law is not “one size fits all”. Every family is unique and so what is right for one, may not be right for another.

When considering the processes that are available to help resolve the issues, once again, there is not a universal option that is right for everybody. That said, it is extremely important, and especially so when children are involved, that genuine attempts should be made to try to resolve the issues as amicably as possible. Court should usually be considered a last resort due to the high emotional and financial costs involved.

Options include;

  1. DIY discussions

This would involve you and your partner discussing the various issues to try to come to an agreement between you both. For it to work, it is important that you both feel comfortable enough to have those discussions and confident that you can discuss the issues constructively, in a non-confrontational way. It is also really helpful if you are both able to ensure that you take time to really listen to what each of you is saying and understand each other’s point of view and concerns.

  1. Mediation

You would both attend meetings with a mediator. The mediator is independent and impartial and so will not “take sides”. Their role is to facilitate the discussions to help keep them focused and constructive, and explore the issues and settlement options. Whilst some mediators are dual qualified as mediators and solicitors, they cannot provide either of you with advice.

  1. Negotiation

You instruct us to negotiate on your behalf. We will support and advise you throughout and communicate with your ex-partner or their solicitors to seek to narrow and resolve the issues.

  1. Collaborative law

You both instruct lawyers who are trained in collaborative practice. The negotiations are conducted by way of a series of round-table meetings and you both have your lawyer beside you to support and advise you throughout.

You all commit to reaching an agreement outside of the court process and this means that everyone is completely focused on finding solutions, by agreement.

  1. Arbitration

You might both agree to submit to family arbitration if you have not been able to reach an agreement using the other options listed above. The agreed arbitrator will then make decisions about finance and property issues and can also resolve some disputes in relation to children.

It is a process which can be very flexible and can be particularly useful if you only require a decision to be made regarding a specific aspect or very quickly, or when confidentiality is essential. (The press has a right to access and report on court applications subject to restrictions but has no such rights in relation to arbitration.)

  1. Court application

When an application is made to the court, the court will give instructions on what it expects parties to do so that the Judge can (if necessary) decide the issues in dispute and set a timetable. This might involve providing financial disclosure, the instruction of experts, preparation of witness statements etc. In most cases there is a series of hearings which are intended to help identify and narrow the issues that the judge needs to decide, check to make sure that what was supposed to happen has happened, and identify the next steps. Ultimately, in the absence of an agreement, a Judge will make a decision on the issues in dispute.

It is important to understand that each of these options does not stand in isolation. Your choice as to the method of resolving your disputes is not “either/or”. Even where an application has been made to the court, there is an expectation that the parties will continue to negotiate and try to reach an agreement. In fact, there are very few cases that do not settle and have to be determined by the Judge.

In the event that you wish to try to resolve the issues using DIY discussions, mediation, through arbitration or even looking to represent yourself in making an application to the court, it is still sensible to obtain some specialist advice. This will ensure that you are not agreeing something in haste or with a mistaken belief as to your rights, which you might come to regret in months or years to come.

It is also really important that, in the event that you are able to reach an agreement, this is recorded appropriately. In relation to the children, you may wish to have a parenting plan drawn up. In relation to the finances it is likely that either a Separation Agreement or Consent Order would be advised depending upon whether divorce proceedings are to be issued.

For more information in relation to the process options and how family law applies to your specific circumstances, please contact me for an initial free, no obligation chat. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217305, karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk or complete our online enquiry form here.

Karen Johnson is an accredited specialist family solicitor with over 16 years’ experience in assisting clients address issues arising as a result of relationship breakdown.

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