Putting Children First
  • 30th Dec 2015
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Back in November this year, we saw family practitioners across the country promoting non-court options to mark Family Dispute Resolution week. This year’s motto came with the catchphrase “putting children first”.

For many members of the public, I suspect the idea that separating couples would do anything other than putting their children first is an anathema but sadly many family law practitioners would still say that all too often their clients become embroiled in arguments and their children are then the resulting casualty.

Most of us have no doubt thoroughly enjoyed the last few days of Christmas festivities and are feeling the pull of straining trousers or skirt bands as we go about our daily business preparing for what the New Year heralds but for many families Christmas is a deeply difficult time resulting in that call on the first working day of the New Year to the solicitor’s office to speak to a family law specialist for the first time.

That first conversation when you speak to your potential lawyer or one of their support staff is so very important and can in fact set the tone for how the rest of your separation will take place. The phrase “conscious uncoupling” found favour in the media when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin separated and did much to promote resolving the issues arising from a separation amicably but still we see far too many couples approaching their separation anything other than amicably.

Our government has promoted mediation as one of the forms of alternative dispute resolution and, as a method of resolving issues arising from separation, mediation can be a brilliant way to bring couples together so they can plan for the future and make sure any children they have are very much at the front of their focus on separation but it is not the only way to do this. Sadly the collaborative law approach which can for some couples work better than mediation is often overlooked and ignored.

Where mediation sees a couple being guided through their discussions by a qualified mediator who is trained to facilitate their negotiations but not to give legal advice, the collaborative law approach combines the freedom of the negotiating table with the advantage of both parties having their lawyers present to give legal advice when required and which helps the discussions continue seamlessly.

With the collaborative law process there is no “them and us” and no letters dropping on the mat from one solicitor or another to create disharmony between separating parties.  All discussions take place in round table meetings and all issues are aired in the group either by discussion or email. There is a true sense of ownership of your separation which surely is how it should be.

Even if mediation or the collaborative law process are not the right or viable options for you, with sensible lawyers it is still possible to achieve the “conscious uncoupling” promoted by Chris and Gwyneth. Solicitor negotiation is another sensible and often more cost effective way to resolve disputes arising from separation.  There is also Arbitration where you can pay a qualified Arbitrator to act as a Judge and make a decision for you but without having to make a formal Court application. Certainly the very last option for any separating couple should be issuing formal Court proceedings.

When I see clients for the first time I often tell them that they are at a cross roads and they have a choice as to which road to follow – the rocky, hilly path or the smooth motorway.  I certainly urge them to choose the latter!

When you consider and add to this the fact that, whilst your divorce or separation may be resolved with the ink drying on your Court Orders in a matter of months, for couples with children you are going to have to be in an out of each other’s lives for the foreseeable future.  The Resolution catch phrase “putting children first” is not just about putting small children first when you separate but about putting in place the stepping stones to ensure that you and your ex husband/wife or partner can both be present at that child’s wedding in years to come.

So, if sadly your Christmas sees you reaching for the phone on 4th January or beyond, then it pays to make sure you do your research first by looking at a solicitor’s web profile, client feedback and the overall Family Law Department’s profile to make sure you choose the right person to ensure you truly do achieve “putting your children first” upon separation.

You can find out more information on the family pages of our website. The family team at Whitehead Monckton have a wealth of experience providing guidance and advice in all areas relating to separation or divorce. If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact a member of the Family team.