As summer comes to an end, we find ourselves largely free from lockdown restrictions and, whilst things may never go back to pre-COVID normality, some sense of “normal” is being re-established.
For many couples, lockdown restrictions have been very difficult and have led to a reappraisal of relationships. As the restrictions ease, some hard decisions are being made and relationships are coming to a sad end.
Separation is a time of life when you feel much is out of your control and you have no idea what the future may bring – the pandemic has already made many of us feel like that for too long already. The thought therefore of being in that position again is very daunting. However, it does not have to be that way. Litigation and the courts is not an inevitable part of divorce and if you can reasonably avoid them, you should. If you end up in litigation then you are certainly not in control of what is going on and ultimately, if you cannot come to an agreement, a stranger will decide what happens to you and your assets. Sometimes litigation is unavoidable but for most couples there are other and better options.
Consider mediation. In mediation, you meet with a specially trained mediator who will help the two of you come to an agreement and find a solution. The mediator does not give advice (and is not always legally trained). Once you have reached an agreement in mediation, you need to go to lawyers to get your agreement put into a legally binding form, but the hard work has already been done.
Mediation works for some people, but others feel more comfortable with a lawyer present to advise them. It can be intimidating to be expected to negotiate with your former partner - especially if there are complex issues involving businesses, property or pensions. If that is the case, then look at collaborative law. If you use collaborative law, you, your partner and your lawyers sign a formal agreement not to litigate and to find a solution in a series of face-to-face meetings. Your lawyer can give you advice during the meetings, and openly help you to negotiate a fair settlement. The collaborative law process has a very good settlement rate. I have dealt with many collaborative cases over the years and in nearly all of them, the two clients have been able to maintain a very good working relationship, which is crucial when children are involved.
Importantly, with both mediation and collaboration, you retain control of what is happening in your lives. You are part of the solution and not having one imposed upon you. Keeping that degree of control will help you to move forward quicker and with more confidence into whatever the post-COVID world will bring.
Stephen Root is an industry recognised specialist in Family Law