Under the current system, avoiding some level of court involvement during a divorce is impossible. However, while it is the court that formalises the process, it is possible to resolve the majority of issues amicably and by consent. This not only provides the parties with more control over the outcome, but can also save tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees. Here, we present our top tips for reducing tension in family proceedings:
- Communication is key
A common reason why family proceedings are contested is that communication breaks down between the parties. Depending on the circumstances, this can be entirely understandable. However, keeping a line of communication open can be the best way to resolve matters amicably. If talking face to face with your ex-partner seems impossible, choosing a solicitor that favours a more conciliatory approach can often be the first step in attempting to reduce hostility in proceedings. The tone of communications can often be just as important as the content and being overly aggressive towards the other side can often create a conflict atmosphere and a stalemate. When this occurs, court proceedings are often the only way to resolve the issue.
- Focus on the Issues
Although the relationship has broken down, it can still be possible to agree on how to deal with the finances, or what arrangements are appropriate for the children. If the parties can agree on certain aspects of the separation before starting proceedings, it can allow the parties to focus on the areas of dispute. Taking legal advice early on in the process can assist here, as a solicitor can explore a client’s priorities with them and enable them to identify where there is agreement, and where the attention needs to be focused. Alternatively, it may be possible to agree on everything outside court. If this happens, the process can be done mainly by consent and as a necessary step towards implementing an agreement, rather than a contentious battle incurring substantial legal fees.
- Agree the Petition in Advance
One reason why divorces can turn contentious is when a petition is presented without any warning to the other party. This can cause one party to feel like they are being blamed for the breakdown of the marriage (rightly or wrongly) and can then cause hostility which can affect related children and financial proceedings. A more conciliatory approach is to prepare a draft petition in advance, ideally choosing the least contentious ground and asking the other side to agree or propose reasonable amendments. This way both partners feel like they are being listened to from an early stage and can encourage co-operation between the parties, increasing the chance of other related issues proceeding by consent and more amicably.
- Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution
Even when negotiations do not lead to a settlement, it is not inevitable that court involvement will be needed. There are a number of other approaches that can be considered, which are often less confrontational than a traditional trial. These include mediation, which involves a neutral third party working with the parties to try and reach a settlement, and collaborative law (see previous article here) which is a separate process based on round table discussions. Both of these approaches are designed to reduce confrontation by encouraging settlement whilst not removing the possibilities of Court proceedings at a later date.
- Consider the Children’s Interests
By putting your children’s interests at the forefront of negotiations, the parties will be reflecting the approach of the Court, especially in decisions involving where they might live and how this will work for both parents. The Children Act requires the Court to consider a list of factors when dealing with any application involving children aged 18 or under, although in practice as the children get older more emphasis is put on their own views. By adopting a child focused approach from the start the parties will reflect the approach of the Court and may find it easier to reach a consensus and agreed settlement.
- Consider other support
The process of separation and divorce can be very stressful for the whole family which can manifest itself in various ways. Having the support and guidance of professionals can be very important to the outcome of a case and we do work with various other professionals too. These include barristers, financial advisors and pension experts as well as Family Consultants. By using them and working together, this can assist you to make considered and informed decisions as will trying to manage costs by using and referring to their specialist knowledge at the appropriate and relevant times.
Paul Wild, our Head of Family Law, is a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer who places an emphasis on reducing conflict and working with clients and other solicitors to reach agreement on the key issues, which in turn reduces tension and is more cost effective. To benefit from Paul’s expertise and issue focused approach call 0118 9589711 or click this link to find out more or to book an initial fixed fee appointment for £95. Alternatively, you can contact Paul by e-mail at [email protected]