Yes. Divorcing couples often feel that they are pushed into opposing camps but there are approaches that assist with achieving a conciliatory approach and achieving a working relationship after marriage.
Mediation can be useful for helping couples who are splitting but who want to sort out their own affairs albeit with some help. It isn’t like marriage counselling, an attempt to get back you together. But it is an opportunity to sit down with someone properly trained to help. A mediator will meet with you and your ex, together or separately, to identify the issues; work out where each party stands; and fill out forms and, if possible, put together a document covering the areas of agreement. It is crucial (and part of their training) that a qualified mediator should not make decisions for you and they should not take sides. If you are on legal aid then you have to consider mediation before you can get public funding. You don’t have to go through mediation, you only have to consider it. If you are not on legal aid, a mediator can be a lot cheaper than a solicitor and can cut down on the final legal costs considerably.
At the end of the mediation process a summary document is drawn up which sets out the points that you and your ex have agreed. It is not in itself legally binding. However as far as it relates to finances after divorce, or arrangements for children, you can ask the court to make your agreement legally binding. As described above, a solicitor will often be needed to help you with this. A document called a draft consent order will be sent to the court. A judge will look at it and decide whether to make the order.
‘Collaborative law’ is something else you might hear about. It is totally separate from mediation. The expression describes a relatively new approach by family lawyers to manage the divorce process in a potentially less stressful and sometimes more cost-effective manner. In a collaborative approach you work with your lawyers to agree in writing to reach settlement without court involvement. You have to agree to work together to resolve children and financial issues arising out of the separation. You have to have the kind of relationship with your ex where you can bear sitting around the table with them and their lawyer. You and your ex agree with your lawyers to resolve issues without going to court through a series of face-to-face meetings (you, your lawyer, your ex plus their lawyer). If no settlement can be reached or either party makes a court application, each has to instruct new lawyers for court proceedings.
Thanks very much to Punam Denley, a partner at the International Family Law Group LLP for reviewing and to David Hodson, also partner at the International Family Law Group LLP, who reviewed an earlier version which appeared in A Parent’s Guide to the Law by Jon Robins (LawPack , 2009). Stephen Lawson, a litigation partner at Forshaws Davies Ridgway LLP assisted with the section on the CSA.