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. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but we need to go further as an industry in order to implement real 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. This has also been our mission: to move away from the “boxing ring” mentality of divorce and to help couples get divorced in a calm and cooperative way. We believe relationship breakdown is a human process and requires a range of professionals working together to provide support to the family at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.
It takes more than legislative change to change society’s attitude that divorce requires a fight.
We need to move away from the adversarial approach inherent in our legal system towards holistic support for the whole family. At The Wells Group, our goal is to take the stress and uncertainty out of the divorce process by offering clients a fixed package of expert legal, financial, mediation, therapeutic and parenting assistance. We want to provide families with a calm and orderly environment where all elements of the divorce process are offered under one roof.
A key part of this process is for mediators and lawyers to work together so that we can offer full support to clients who want to be reassured that any financial settlement reached is fair. We believe mediation works best with legal advice and we work with the best law firms in the surrounding area to offer a flat rate legal assistance package.
Again, this goes against the trend, but it’s the right solution for our customers. We have found that more and more clients are put off by the indeterminate costs of lawyers and are instead looking for alternatives. At a time of great uncertainty in their lives, families need certainty. As an industry, we must help families through a difficult and chaotic time, ensuring legal issues are handled fairly while fostering a good, long-term parenting relationship for years to come.
Encouragingly, more and more legal professionals seem to be promoting alternatives to the traditional model of combative negotiations and litigation.
Collaborative law and mediation are more popular than ever, providing the opportunity for clients to work together rather than against each other in an adversarial legal system with little control over costs. A positive change stemming from the pandemic is that services are now offered virtually end-to-end, providing a faster and more streamlined process. Clients can now work together without having to be in the same room, which can often feel overwhelming at the start of the separation.
The Family Solutions Group, chaired by our founding partner, Helen Adam, urges the government to do more to put child protection at the center of family separation. This is a multi-disciplinary group specializing in working with families inside and outside of court. The Family Solutions Group 2020 report, “What about me? built a strong case for major change. His recent event, “Getting out of the fight of family separation”, brought together 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 over the past 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 doesn’t have to be a fight. We hope this is just the beginning; a catalyst for change on a broader societal scale in which legal professionals will follow suit and focus on the needs of the whole family, not just their client.
About the Author: Juliette Shaw is a Founding Partner and FMC Accredited Mediator at The Wells Group in Kent.