ARTICLE: 3 DEGREES OF SEPARATION

Many separating couples are becoming ever more wary of the involvement of the courts in their personal issues due to the delay that can occur, the increase in costs and the impact the traditional adversarial approach can have on their future relationship.

The courts are overwhelmed with work and the system is fast becoming a lottery of when and before whom a matter is tried and under the current financial restraints, the system is creaking at the seams.

Family lawyers are adapting to the demands of their clients to have more cost effective and less contentious options available as a way of resolving their disputes upon a relationship breakdown.

Mediation has for a long time been the only real option but some have shied away from this, concerned about the imbalance of power within that format. Two current and fresh alternatives are collaborative law and arbitration.

Collaborative law has fast become a current favourite amongst couples who want to achieve a constructive and amicable settlement, enabling them to continue to work together in many circumstances, in their joint role as parents. Within the collaborative format each person appoints their own lawyer and the majority of the process takes place in four way meetings. Instead of negotiations dealt with by the more traditional method of letters, telephone calls and perhaps court, matters are dealt with face to face with the couple and their respective lawyers present. The lawyers support the clients physically and emotionally throughout the process. The couple set the agenda and mission statements are prepared by each of them setting out their aims and desires. The lawyers also sign up to an agreement which disqualifies them from taking the matter to court. This concentrates the minds of everyone to reach a settlement and creates an atmosphere where compromise is more readily achieved.

Arbitration for family law issues launched on 22nd February 2012. This will, it is believed, by far become the preferred option for those who have previously ended up in court and those seeking privacy in their private matters.

The couple can nominate a specific arbitrator to deal with their case. They agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s decisions and not to go to court during the process. The advantages are those of time and comfort that a specified and known legal professional trained as an arbitrator will deal with their case throughout providing consistency and a shorter timeframe for matters to be concluded. Although arbitration has to be privately funded, there can still be cost benefits in using this more time efficient process. This is something the traditional system cannot offer.

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