What I do know is that most of them come through our doors full of anxiety about talking to strangers about their most personal problems; worried to the back teeth about how much they are going to have to spend on getting things sorted; and in a state of near meltdown over how they are going to move from struggling to support one household to supporting two. Their heads are simply full of anxieties, about co-parenting, careers, money, why their relationship failed and much, much more. What most of them don’t want is to go to court, and that’s very clear.
Traditionally, though, what they’re offered is the rather unsophisticated and usually punishingly expensive one-size-fits-all approach which relies upon solicitors’ correspondence to narrow the issues, but which often involves a large degree of court intervention when an agreement isn’t brokered quickly enough. More recently, if they are very lucky, they might find themselves instructing a solicitor who is collaboratively trained, or a mediator, or at least a lawyer who understands mediation, in which case the chances of keeping the case out of court will be better, the outcomes better and the costs lower.
But there are still a large number of clients for whom even mediation or collaboration are not the approach they want, or feel they even need. What these couples want is a simple divorce and a financial settlement which they have worked through together and which they feel is fair. They want a single professional to help them together and to draft any paperwork. Yet most lawyers won’t go near such an approach and this means that there are many, many people who aren’t getting the legal service they really want.
Nearly every client I’ve seen since the start of the summer has clearly wanted a less intensive legal process. They have either wanted to come in with their partner, or have asked to bring in their partner after having seen me first. So that’s what I’m now doing more than ever, usually alongside a financial planner who assists both of them, and with all of us around a table. I need to make sure, of course, that the couple understand my role, which of them I’m acting for and that the other should take legal advice separately. But so far it’s going really, really well and my clients seem to be delighted that they can see someone with their partner.
It’s not mediation, it’s not collaboration, it’s not “constructive negotiations” and it’s certainly not adversarial litigation. It’s something different and I think it’s going to prove to be very popular.