To coincide with Family Mediation Week, family lawyers at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) led by Jacqueline Major offer the following advice for couples struggling to reach amicable agreement.
“In an ideal world, divorcing and separating couples would focus clearly, constructively and pragmatically on the best solution for the whole family, sorting out financial matters and protecting children,” Jeetesh Patel, a family partner at HJA, says. “Clearly, though, that can be more easily said than done.”
To keep things out of court, potentially unpleasant for everyone involved, Jeetesh says that Alternative Dispute Resolution helps couples reach decisions.
“Unlike counselling, trained mediators will not try to keep a couple together once they’ve decided to split, nor go back over the past. The focus is purely on the future and working things out in the best possible way. Mediators are impartial, do not offer legal advice and anything said in mediation is confidential and without prejudice,” Jeetesh adds.
Mediation can be invaluable in preventing misunderstandings and even mud-slinging. Most people attend between two and five sessions, but the process is theirs to decide upon and generally fees are fixed cost, usually divided up equally between both parties.
How does mediation work?
“As a couple, you meet one mediator together in a room, in two separate rooms or even over Skype, to talk things through. There is also the option of using the collaborative process – whereby you each appoint your own collaboratively trained lawyer and attend four-way meetings. Collaborative lawyers will be by your side throughout the process and so you both have their support and legal advice as you go through it”, Jeetesh explains.
Mediation generally focus on discussions about future regular payments from one to the other, who the children will live with, child maintenance and the division of property and money. Couples are asked to exchange financial documents, including income, debts, assets and liabilities.
Once arrangements are decided, for example, how children will split their time, a formal mediated document is drawn up. If arrangements are agreed about money and property, it’s sensible to formalise this with a court order.
“The beauty of mediation is that it can take place at any stage, even on a discrete point, and even if the parties have already begun court proceedings. It is a positive choice and the chance to resolve family matters without setting foot in a court building.
“People are often reluctant to go down this route,” he says, “because they are angry and hurt and that can make them stubborn.
“But my advice is that it’s far better to nip those feelings in the bud as soon as humanly possible and to work proactively to build the best future for everyone involved. After all, at one point, you probably loved the other person very much and most people only want the best for their children.”
Another partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, Teena Dhanota-Jones offers her do’s and don’ts of communicating and approaching divorce and separation:
- Do tell your partner.
- Do communicate and, if possible, discuss how to proceed with interim arrangements, regarding who is going to live where, how you will arrange care for the children and interim finances i.e. who is going to pay for what.
- Do have some emotional support from a friend, family member or a counsellor.
- Do take initial advice from a family solicitor, who will also advise you about alternative dispute resolution and your options generally. Early advice can prevent relatively minor legal problems from escalating.
- Do read the relevant information on the Resolution website; in particular about splitting up and parenting after parting.
- Do ultimately agree you need to work out grounds for the divorce.
- Do take joint responsibility for the breakdown of the relationship.
- Don’t start the divorce process before informing your partner, either personally or via your solicitor.
- Don’t siphon funds to other accounts or withdraw large amounts of monies to attempt to hide assets or frustrate your partner’s financial claims.
- Don’t tell the children about the divorce, in the absence of your partner or without their agreement.
- Don’t involve the children in the break up and do not try to alienate them from the other parent.
- Don’t assume you have to be confrontational.
- Don’t solely blame your partner for the breakdown of the relationship.
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Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen, recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by Solicitors Journal.
- For 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- In 2016, the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.