Tools in the toolbox

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At CFLP, we are proud to be collaborative lawyers, mediators, negotiators and litigators in family law. We can offer various processes to assist the people coming through our doors who wish to make agreements before or during marriage, are facing the breakdown of their relationship, or are having problems agreeing with the other parent of their children. If you’d like to find out more about the process options available, have a look at our ‘how we do it’ page. It’s important to remember that whatever you’re going through, you do generally have a choice about how you try to approach it.

Everyone now seems to know about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ – a source of mirth but perhaps also grudging respect in the media over the last few weeks. It seems that they’re trying to go carefully through what will inevitably be a painful separation, to focus on their children and disentangle their lives and financial arrangements in the gentlest way possible. It’s a rare and welcome example of a high-profile couple taking a collaborative approach to sorting things out (whether or not they are actually using the collaborative process). Usually, what we tend to see of high-profile break-ups is the initial press release then the reports of the High Court hearings – not a pretty picture.

There’s also a fair degree of scepticism about whether the Paltrow/Martins will be able to sort it all out amicably. It’s true that a good number of couples start off their break-ups with the honest intention of ‘doing it right’, only to find it’s harder than expected. It is incredibly difficult sometimes to get through the hurt and disappointment of relationship breakdown, and to rise above what seems to be unreasonable or provocative behaviour on the part of the other person involved. And sometimes it’s not possible to do that; sometimes circumstances change and it’s necessary to act quickly and decisively and involve the court.

It takes two to do any sort of tango short of going to court where there’s a family dispute to be resolved. If one person won’t engage with mediation, collaborative law, or negotiations, then they can’t be compelled to do so. They can, however be compelled to come to court if necessary. Also, there are other reasons why mediation or collaborative law may not be appropriate, for example if trust and goodwill between the two of you has completely disappeared, or if there’s been significant domestic abuse or violence which means that one person might not feel able to express themselves fully without fear of reprisal.

That said, from our experience we know that it’s almost always better for children if parents are able to work out their arrangements without having to use the courts. Collaborative law facilitates the inclusion of family consultants with therapeutic experience if this is helpful for the family. Alternatively, we will encourage our clients to try to work things out with a skilled mediator if possible, providing guidance and assistance along the way if that’s useful. If mediation isn’t possible or isn’t successful, we will aim to negotiate. Unless a child is at risk, court is rarely appropriate as a first step towards making lasting arrangements: as parents of the same children, processes that encourage the two of you to build the ability to communicate are likely to stand you, and the children, in better stead in the long-run than court proceedings that necessarily pit one of you against the other.

Where finances are concerned, the same options apply: if you want to work out arrangements between yourselves, collaborative law and mediation offer opportunities to be creative and to come up with ideas that suit the two of you but which a court wouldn’t necessarily order of its own accord. Doing things collaboratively or by mediation gives you the opportunity to get impartial advice from specially-trained financial advisors alongside your lawyers, if desirable, to ensure that the solutions you come to will fit your respective needs and are affordable. However, if things are too difficult and an ‘arm’s length’ approach is necessary or preferable, negotiations needn’t be long or drawn-out. The court will make a decision if it’s not possible for the two of you to come to an agreement. As an alternative to using the court, an arbitrator can make a binding decision on financial matters, which is private and quick.

We’re aware that it can seem odd to some people that we can say how committed we are to collaborative working, to keeping down the temperature of a dispute, but at the same time tell you we’re able to fight your corner in court. What we do, as family lawyers, is treat the different processes in which we are able to work as if they are tools in a toolbox, to be used as relevant for the individuals and families we work with.   We don’t like to use the sledgehammer when we think a gentle buff will get better results; and using a flathead screwdriver won’t work when you need a Philips. However, the sledgehammer and the flathead are still there in the bag, and we know how to wield them when they fit the job at hand. The fact that we are expert craftspeople means that we’ll guide you to the best process for you, and support and advise you as you get through it.

So if there’s anything we can do to help, do give us a call on 01223 443333.

*This blog is written for informational purposes as a free public resource. Nothing in this blog or elsewhere on this website should be construed as legal advice. Although we welcome discussion, please note that CFLP is unable to give legal advice in response to comments left under this article.

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