A New Year, a fresh start. Time to reconcile or divorce?
The New Year often leads people to consider a fresh start, and in some cases couples consider their future together. Whilst commonly thought of as the time for a post-Christmas rush for new divorce client’s, it’s refreshing to see the courageous effort of leading family judge Sir Paul Coleridge (The Telegraph, 03+04/01/12) who is setting up a new organisation, “the Marriage Foundation”, with the supoprt of a number of other highly regarded family lawyers.
Any decent family lawyer will inform their client at that very start that there are several options available to couples to help them maintain their relationship and overcome their domestic problems. Also, if a couple is divorcing, then the family lawyer acting for the Petitioner has to lodge with the court a “Statement of Reconciliation” with Divorce Petition, which hopefully the family lawyer will have given more than just lip service to.
However, sadly some relationships have simply come to an end. Family lawyers don’t cause a relationship breakdown, but are very often influential on how the couple shape their future away from each other. When this happens, it’s important to remember that there are also several options available to help a couple split up amicably and with dignity, without the stress and acrimony of expensive court proceedings. One option is Mediation, which provides a couple with a way of discussing solutions to their problems in a controlled environment away from the family home with a help of a neutral person; the Mediator.
Another options is the Collaborative Family Law (CFL) process; a way for a couple to meet together “roundtable” with their specially trained CFL lawyers, and also with other non-legal advisors, to consider constructive options to reach a agreement with dignity away from the court process.
What might prove useful for the Marriage Foundatrion to look into, would be what information is required by law to be conveyed to a couple (whether married or unmarried) when they first seek advice. Perhaps family lawyers should be required by statute to take on more of a role in trying to keep couples together, by early referral to relationship support organisations such as Relate? There is already the need to consider mediation, with a MIAM, before court proceedings begin, so should something similar apply before a divorce petition can be issued? We might be returning to the idea of information meetings as set out in the Family Law Act 1996? (see my earlier blog 20.10.11). But, isn’t it often to late for the couple if that information is having to be made available by the lawyers?