2nd Oct 2019

Using creative communication in divorce

Berwins’ Family team is proud to specialise in collaborative family law and support separating clients to move forward in a constructive way. Marking Collaborative Family Law Week 2019, Director Stephen Root looks at how communicating creatively can have real benefits for separating couples

“Creative communication” sounds a very open phrase and can mean many things to many people. One definition when I googled the phrase was that it is “communication that meets the listener where they are and appealing to the way they want to receive the message”.

I guess this means you should think about what you’re saying, how you say things and the person you are saying them to. In a four-way roundtable meeting in a Collaborative Law case it is very important to consider how you say something. There needs to be positive communication across the table and if there is a way of putting a point which is more likely to get a favourable response it helps to keep matters moving forward if you put it accordingly. Try not to put the other person on the defensive. It is certainly not “creative communication” if you carry out a cross-examination! That being said, clients in such meetings can understandably be emotional and things do sometimes get said in the heat of the moment. That is where your lawyers should step in. It is for them to ensure the parties keep on speaking to each other and they should be able to be more measured and consider what they’re saying. Always, always, consider the impact of the words you are about to use.

We are lucky that this year’s Northern Lights 10 conference has a leading expert in the field of communication speaking in the closing plenary session. Professor Liz Stokoe studies how we speak to each other. Her final session “Myths and Science of Negotiation” will go into this in much more depth but I’ve seen her give workshops in the past. They are fascinating, she illustrates how small differences can make big impacts. It maybe the closing session of the conference but this is not one to rush away from to catch an early train. Miss it at your peril.

There is, of course another aspect of creative communication with Collaborative Law cases. We aren’t hidebound or constrained by a court process. We do not have to approach the case in question in a prescribed way in order to meet court deadlines or deal with legal points. We can be creative. For instance, there is likely at some point to be an impasse between the parties. How to get round that can often be the key to finding a solution. Experienced collaborative lawyers will be thinking outside the box to break such an impasse. Silence can be one way of doing this – asking the parties to sit for five minutes without speaking but to think (silence can be a form of communication). Alternatively, we might ask the clients to work backwards from their desired outcomes or, ask each client to become an advocate for the other person’s position. In other words, we can think about how the parties keep on communicating with each other across the table.

Collaborative Law is in itself a “creative communication”. It is all about keeping couples communicating with each other, creating solutions and finding answers to the problems in front of them. Those problems often appear to be intractable at the start but in reality, with a bit of imagination, solutions can nearly always be found. In my experience communication is always the key. The very fact that a couple sit round a table together is much better than facing off in a court battle. That is why the participation agreement is so important as it is a commitment by the couple to find a solution face-to-face and keep on talking. The more creative we can be about how they do that, the better the outcome is likely to be. In every case the result can be tailored to that particular family – by talking and listening to each other.

Consistently ranked in industry directories as one of the leaders in his field, Stephen Root is a pioneer in the practice of collaborative family law and has been supporting clients for over 30 years. 

Berwins' dedicated and friendly team is here to help. If you have a matter you would like to discuss with Stephen and the team, please get in touch by calling (01423) 509000 or use our contact form online and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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