One Couple, One Lawyer: What is it, is it suitable for you and do we offer it?

We are committed to our clients to ensure that they achieve the best possible outcome as to the finances and the arrangements for their children following their divorce. However, what if there was a way to better service our clients so that they achieve the best possible outcome, as well as avoid lengthy court proceedings and expensive legal costs by taking advice together?

With the introduction of the new no-fault divorce procedure, it is now possible to make a joint application for divorce. This was a welcome change to the old adversarial process of having to ‘blame’ one spouse for the breakdown of the marriage, which in most cases only served to stir up animosity between the couple before even contemplating the division of their assets and the arrangements for their children.

It seems logical, therefore, that a change be implemented to encourage an amicable resolution of the finances and the arrangements for their children too.

We have long been able to offer mediation to our clients to resolve the arrangements for the finances and any children. Unfortunately, mediation has its limitations. A mediator must remain impartial and cannot give legal advice to the couple. It is for the couple to seek separate independent legal advice on any agreement which they reach in mediation and then one client’s solicitor will draw up the agreement for it to be reviewed by the other client’s solicitor until it is agreed that it reflects the terms of their agreement and before it is sent to the court for final approval.

Historically, it has never been permissible to advise a couple jointly due to conflicts of interest. One spouse may apply the law to the facts of the case, differently to the other spouse and what one spouse might consider fair is not considered fair by the other and so on. Judges in the family courts are also afforded a great deal of discretion when applying the law to the facts of each case and deciding what a fair outcome might be. Usually, a judge will fall somewhere in the middle of the clients’ respective positions.

Now, Resolution, the community of family justice professionals for whom we are a member, has endorsed family lawyers advising a husband and wife jointly and we hope to implement this new way of working into our day-to-day practice very soon.

Importantly, this process will not be suitable for everyone and we shall remain committed to providing an all-round service to our clients. One of our expert family lawyers will be able to advise you what process might work best for you and your family.

How ‘One Couple One Lawyer’ works

  • A family lawyer will meet with the couple on a joint basis to give them general advice.
  • The same lawyer would assist you both in completing financial disclosure.
  • The lawyer will consider with both spouses whether to obtain advice from an expert i.e. accountants/tax advisers, pension advisers, estate agents etc. The lawyer will also run through with you the arrangements for the children and help to prepare a parenting plan if required.
  • The lawyer will then be in a position to advise you jointly on what a fair settlement might be, in other words, what decision a judge might make.
  • The couple may wish to seek independent legal advice at this stage.
  • Once an agreement is reached, the lawyer instructed on a joint basis can prepare the necessary paperwork and submit it to the court for final approval.

Already you can see that this process is quite distinct from mediation and other ways of resolving issues from separation.

Why is it a better option?

Most importantly, it reduces conflict early on in the process with both spouses receiving the benefit of joint advice.

The process will be quicker. The length of time it takes to reach a settlement shall be reduced significantly when compared to the time is takes to have a resolution via the courts. It is suggested that the One Couple One Lawyer process will be approximately 6-8 weeks although that will be subject to how long the courts also take to approve and process the court papers.

The process is likely to be far less expensive. Costs in cases that end up in court can run into tens of thousands of pounds very quickly. The One Couple One Lawyer process is streamlined so, in most cases, the finances and the arrangements for the children can be dealt with cost effectively.

If you would like to know anything more about the contents of this article, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family law team who will be pleased to advise you.