19th Apr 2018

Understanding both sides can help to avoid a messy divorce

Difficulties in relationships are, unfortunately, not uncommon. But at what point do arguments and disagreements signal that a couple have reached the end of their journey together? This question sat at the heart of The Seven Year Switch – a controversial television series which aired recently on Channel4.

The Seven Year Switch

This series took four couples whose relationships were in crisis and transported them to an exotic location in Thailand and then paired them up with different partners in an attempt to save their existing relationships. The idea was that this would help the individuals to see the faults in themselves and the issues between them and their current partner more clearly. It was a fascinating exercise as, skilfully edited, the programme helped to highlight the difficulties in the relationships, sometimes very starkly and brutally.

At the end of the programme, the participants returned to the UK and their existing partners. They then had two weeks together before deciding whether to separate or give their relationship another go. At the time of filming, three of the four relationships decided to stick together, with one splitting up. Since then, one of the other parties has also decided to separate. So, a mixed success but a programme that got lots of people talking.

Seeing both sides of the story

As a divorce lawyer with over 30 years’ experience, the programme touched on issues I handle on a day to day basis and offered a fascinating insight. Often, I only see one side of the story, that of my client and sometimes never even meet or see the other partner. Here, we were seeing both sides and it was obvious that the faults in a relationship nearly always go two ways – sometimes it is a combination of the two individuals involved causing the problems, rather than anything one or other of them is doing on their own. Sometimes people do not match.

What came out from the series was that, odd as it initially seemed, the premise of separating the parties and putting them with different partners for a short period of time actually worked. Once they understood themselves and the impact they were having on their existing partners, the people concerned began to understand why the difficulties they were encountering had become so big.

A constructive approach to divorce or separation

This experiment really highlights the fact that, to solve problems in a relationship and bring cases to a settlement you need to understand both parties’ points of view. In family law practice, this focus on constructive solutions is broadly the difference between Collaborative Law and an ‘ordinary’ divorce or separation.

Collaborative Law works - there is a high success rate if a case is dealt with by way of collaboration

In Collaborative Family Law you get to see the parties together and you get to speak to them both. As the solicitor for one ‘side’, I have a working relationship with the other client and their solicitor has a relationship with my client. We sit around a table to resolve the issues that have arisen and decide how the assets should be dealt with and the children considered. We can see how the couple interact and what are likely to be flashpoints.

Once we get to know them we get to understand the approaches we can take that are more likely to be effective and lead to an agreement. This is why Collaborative Law works and why there is such a high success rate if a case is dealt with by way of collaboration. It has the advantage of allowing us to explore all issues, including ones that the court would never consider and find solutions that work outside the box. We can tailor the approach to the individuals concerned rather than the one size fits all approach of the courts.

for couples who decide that their relationship has come to an end, collaborative practice can offer a brighter future.

I have no idea what the long-term outcome may be for the couples featured on The Seven Year Switch. Even those who have decided to separate will, hopefully, have a better understanding of themselves when they go forward.

What I do know is that, for couples who decide that their relationship has come to an end, the collaborative practice can offer a brighter future. Sitting down and working together to solve the problems will mean that closure and future contact – essential if children are involved – is achievable. Set this this against the emotional and financial costs of a messy divorce with an acrimonious battle through court and it’s not had to see why in the long run – even in difficult circumstances – it’s good to talk.

Stephen Root is a top Yorkshire family lawyer with over 30 years’ experience in supported separating couples. To discuss how with Stephen and Berwins' expert Family Law team can support you, call 01423 543 108 or use our online contact form.

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