April’s no-fault divorce law passed in England and Wales will serve to streamline the divorce process and make it a less acrimonious experience for those involved. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but we need to go further as an industry in order to implement true change.
Can mediators and lawyers now work together to change the way people approach divorce?
The introduction of the ‘no-fault divorce law’ means that the legal system has finally brought divorce out of the dark ages and allowed couples to end their marriage or civil partnership amicably. That has also been our mission: to move away from the ‘boxing ring’ mentality of divorce and support couples to divorce in a calm and cooperative way. We believe that the breakdown of a relationship is a human process and requires a whole range of professionals working together to provide support for the family at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.
A great deal more than legislative change is required to shift the attitude in society that divorce requires a fight.
We need to move away from the adversarial approach inherent in our legal system toward holistic support for the whole family. At The Wells Group, our aim is to take stress and uncertainty out of the divorce process by offering clients a fixed fee package of support from legal, financial, mediation, therapeutic and parenting experts. We want to provide families with a calm and orderly environment where all elements of the divorce process are offered under one umbrella.
A key element of this process is the mediators and lawyers working together so we can offer full support to clients who want reassurance that any financial settlement reached is fair. We believe that mediation works best alongside legal advice and we work alongside top law firms in the surrounding area to offer a fixed fee legal support package.
Again, this bucks the trend, but it provides the right solution for our clients. We have found that more and more clients are put off by indeterminate solicitors’ costs and are instead shopping around for alternatives. At a time of great uncertainty in their lives, families need certainty. As an industry, we need to support families through a difficult and chaotic time, ensuring that legal issues are dealt with fairly while promoting a good long-term parenting relationship for the years ahead.
Encouragingly, more and more legal professionals seem to be promoting alternatives to the traditional model of combative negotiations and court proceedings.
Collaborative law and mediation are more popular than ever, offering the opportunity for clients to work together rather than against each other in an adversarial legal system with little control over the cost. A positive change arising from the pandemic is that services are now being offered virtually from start to finish providing a faster, more streamlined process. Clients can now work together without having to be in the same room, which can often feel overwhelming in the early stages of separation.
The Family Solutions Group, chaired by our founding partner, Helen Adam, is urging the government to do more to put child welfare at the centre of family separation. It is a multi-disciplinary group with expertise working with families inside and outside of court. The Family Solutions Group report in 2020, ‘What about me?’ mounted a strong case for major change. Its recent event, “Taking the Fight out of Family Separation”, was attended by the Attorney General, The President of the Family Division, MPs, Judges, academics and family professionals and was a valuable opportunity for those involved to discuss how to mitigate the devastating impact of divorce and conflict on children.
What will these changes bring?
The world has changed dramatically in the last two years with the pandemic. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will serve to streamline divorce proceedings and send a powerful message that divorce does not have to be a fight. We hope that this is merely the start; a catalyst for change on a wider societal scale in which legal professionals will follow suit and focus on the needs of the whole family, not just on those of their client.
About the author: Juliette Shaw is the founding partner and FMC accredited mediator at The Wells Group in Kent.