January is generally the busiest time of the year for family lawyers with an increase in the number of new separation and divorce related enquiries. Separation and divorce within a family can have far reaching consequences for the couple but also for any children. At such times, it is important to have clear and pragmatic advice about the options available and for the issues to be resolved quickly and effectively with the minimum of expense.
Often the first issue the couple will want to resolve is what the future arrangements for the children are going to be. Usually the children will live with one parent and spend an agreed amount of time with the other parent. That said, shared care arrangements are becoming more common in this country. If the parents can agree on what will work best for the children and the family as a whole, then they may simply want to record this in a Parenting Plan, which can be downloaded from the Cafcass website. Although not a legal document, this Plan will provide a record of the parties intentions and may lead them to discuss and consider issues which they may otherwise have overlooked.
If the couple cannot agree on the arrangements, then mediation should be considered. If any of the children are aged 10 or over, it is possible to include the children directly within this process. It can be difficult for children to express their true feelings to their parents. The mediation process allows them to speak confidentially to a trained professional who will then share such information as the child has agreed they wish to share with the parents.
Another option is the collaborative law process. Both parents appoint their own trained collaborative lawyer and negotiations are conducted by a series of meetings instead of by telephone or correspondence. Both parties and their lawyers sign an agreement committing them to resolving the issues without going to court, meaning the same lawyers cannot represent them if the collaborative process breaks down. The success rate is high and the focus is on constructive discussion and problem solving, with the lawyers working as a team to seek the best solutions for the couple.
Sadly, parents will not always be able to resolve their disagreements about child arrangements by consent. On occasions it will be appropriate for an application to be made to court, where a Judge or bench of Magistrates will make the decision for the parents. This can be an uncertain, time consuming, costly and emotionally draining experience, so serious consideration should be given to the alternative options available before embarking on this route.
Jayne Turner is a trained and experienced collaborative lawyer and will advise on whether mediation or collaborative law is the right option for you. Jayne is also a Resolution Accredited Specialist in Complex Financial Remedies and Pensions on Divorce and is an Advanced Member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel. Jayne is described in the Legal 500 2018 directory as "sensible, client focused and knowledgeable".