According to recent data from the Ministry of Justice, 33,566 applications for divorce were made between April and June 2022, the highest rate for a decade.
Whether a short-term spike following the introduction of “no-fault divorce”, or a temporary anomaly as a consequence of couples waiting for the latter, the family court system simply cannot cope.
Clients can be left waiting months for court hearings, or worse they may be told at the eleventh hour that no judge is available to hear their case.
Family solicitors have responded to the increasing demands on their clients and the courts by engaging with a variety of other methods to resolve all aspects of a separation under the umbrella term “alternative dispute resolution”.
Not only are these options – many of which have existed in the dispute resolution sphere for years – often cheaper and quicker, but they will also help to relieve the court of the current backlog and allow it to focus on cases of genuine urgency and need.
Clients will have different priorities, since every case is different. Some clients’ relationships will have broken down irreparably, while others may have separated amicably and simply want to move on with their lives with the minimum of fuss.
As advisers, we know the importance of discussing clients’ goals at the outset and co-ordinating an approach that involves their wider team – from financial planners to divorce coaches, therapists and tax experts.
A holistic approach will leave clients feeling empowered and informed to make decisions and much more in control of the process.
Mediation is a good option for those clients who are able to engage with their ex-partner but may still need a steer towards consensus. Mediation involves an independent third party – the “mediator” – who is usually, but not always, a qualified family solicitor, independently guiding the conversations to help your client and their former partner to reach a decision.
The mediator is unable to provide any legal advice during the process, nor are they able to make a decision on behalf of the parties. Your client may therefore want to seek legal advice to supplement the process, to ensure the direction of travel and outcome are fair and reasonable.
Mediation is only viable when both parties are willing to engage in the process. It is often a quick and cost-effective way to resolve matters and can take several forms.
Most mediation sessions are one hour to 90 minutes long, held either in person or remotely (although arguably the former is much more effective), and attended by the parties and mediator only.
If your client or their spouse is uncomfortable being in the same room together – whether in person or remotely – then it is possible to attend “shuttle mediation”, where the mediator will spend time with one party and then relay the information to the other, moving between rooms, with a view to eventually getting everyone together.