Often, the very first reason that couples give me for wanting a divorce is that they are tired of all the fighting. They tell me they've had to put up with years of it, or worse, and by the time they've called a truce, their energy levels are at rock bottom. They are at a very low ebb, desperately worried about their children, and in serious need of a calming, grown-up influence from the outside world.
What a horrible twist of fate then that many traditional court divorces by their very nature encourage the old battle-lines to be re-drawn. It seems doubly odd when there have been so many advances in other areas relating to divorce. At the end of November, the government launched a Sorting Out Separation web application; you can get a do-it-yourself divorce, and people have even been celebrating their divorce for years now - something that has prompted the unlikely appearance on the market of the divorce cake.
The nitty gritty of divorce however is difficult to radicalise. The biggest development this area has seen really just comes down to back to basics: talking things through, with the person who has become your greatest foe. Obviously this can seem the hardest challenge of all as hurt, bitterness and anger are often the strongest feelings. This collaborative approach, however, offers people a new way. Contrary to popular belief, extra-marital relationships are not the leading causes of marital breakdown. The most common causes have been cited as behaviour, growing apart and falling out of love - all much less acrimonious than you might think and grounds for a more friendly, no-fault or collaborative divorce as we call it. For couples who genuinely seek a fair solution and want to minimise the pain of family breakdown, it may offer the best way forward.
Almost always the best solutions are those which you work out for yourselves - together, in a way that everyone involved can share. That is what collaborative law is all about: reaching solutions together to ease the pain of a relationship breakdown and create the best chance of building a brighter future for all concerned.
The traditional way
Traditionally, when couples split they take independent advice from a specialist family solicitor. The respective solicitors then try to reach agreement on how best to settle their clients' differences. They work out how to share assets and responsibilities as they each go their separate ways. Many couples, with the help of their solicitors, do reach agreement this way. Where an agreement is not reached, it is left to the family courts to decide, leading to uncertainty and heartache.
So what's the alternative
You and your partner sit down, and with the help of your solicitors, face-to-face in the same room, work it out. Rather than dealing through your solicitors, you work with them, to reach the best solution for you and your family.
What it needs to make it work
It sounds straightforward, but to work, it needs the right people in the right frame of mind. You both need a genuine desire to make it work; a willingness to fully and honestly disclose information, especially financial; skilled, trained solicitors who are practiced in working this way; and an agreement that you will reach a solution without the need to go to court.
What makes it successful?
You will benefit from having your own independent legal advisor but you are in control and do not have court proceedings to deal with. You set the agenda so that you talk about the things that matter most to you and your family. As you are not governed by court dates and appearances, you can take time to think through your decision and set the pace. You maintain contact with your former partner giving you the best chance of understanding each other and finding the right solutions. If children are involved, you will both remain parents and it will help your children come to terms with your separation if you can show that you are working things out together. Most importantly, the key decisions about your future are made by you, not by a stranger in a court room.
Collaborative lawyers sign an agreement with you which disqualifies them from representing you in court if the collaborative process breaks down. This means they are committed to helping you to find the best solutions by agreement rather than conflict.
Janet Simpson is a family law specialist at Simpson Sissons and Brooke.
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