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For best results in family disputes compromise, don’t litigate

By , on Thursday December 9, 2021 at 9:00 am

Compromise don't litigate in family disputes

A recent case in the family courts has highlighted how unwilling some people can be to reach a compromise and demonstrates the enormous costs of not doing so. In the case of Crowther v Crowther & Ors costs, amounting to £2.3m, far exceeded the financial benefits achieved in the settlement. So much so that Mr Justice Peel, the High Court Judge ruling on this case, concluded:

“The main losers are probably the children who, quite apart from the emotional pain of seeing their parents involved in such bitter proceedings, will be deprived of monies which I am sure their parents would otherwise have wanted them to benefit from in due course.”

The true cost, the emotional detriment on all members of the family, is probably immeasurable.

Unfortunately, this is not a new story for the family lawyers at Woolley & Co, Solicitors. For years, we have observed the damage done to those families who seem determined to litigate in place of compromise.

All good family lawyers are committed to trying to achieve a better outcome for our clients than just maximising the ‘pounds and pence’. We’re certainly not in the business of punishing the other party involved. Helping our clients end a marriage, includes helping to support the creation of a new, working relationship with their former partner, especially where they will co-parent going forward.

The return offered by a compromise can be far-reaching, providing adults with a better opportunity to move on with emotional and financial strength.

Divorcing and separating adults can come to see that compromise does not mean giving in or giving up or going without or any other negative. You can fight to the bitter end to try to get everything you think you ‘deserve’, leaving everyone’s nerves, including the children’s, in tatters. Or, you can choose to get on with the rest of your independent, financial future as swiftly as possible, with the family’s emotional health intact. This is a far better foundation for building your new life positively.

Negotiating a divorce settlement

Consider these do’s and don’ts when negotiating your divorce settlement.

  • Don’t think “what do I deserve to keep or take financially”.
  • Don’t think about division or taking defensive action or an avoidance strategy.
  • Do think about what you will need financially AND what your soon to be former partner will need.
  • Do take the approach of working together and not apart to achieve an outcome that’s fair on you both and prioritises the children.
  • Do think “who can help me to work it all out?”

There is no perfect system to help those going through divorce and separation. Only the separating adults and their families are truly empowered to help each other find and implement a solution that meets everyone’s needs, that prioritises the children, and is accepted as being fair. This sense of empowerment can be exceptionally hard to find if you are hurt emotionally or physically and unable to think straight. There are various professionals out there who can offer help moving on from the emotional pain of a relationship breakdown.

Three rules for negotiating finances when you divorce

1.Your starting point for financial should always be one of reasonableness. Unless you take this stance you could find yourself with extensive legal costs, which before you know it have eaten into the assets you are fighting over.

If negotiations do not meet your expectations, make sure your expectations are reasonable and weigh up the consequences of pushing for the outcome you want against the detriments of the time, cost and potential damage to your family of failing to kindle a new working relationship with your former partner.

2. See the bigger picture and be the bigger person. If you’re hurt by the breakdown of your relationship the temptation may be to try to punish your former partner. All too often we see on TV drama’s the one embittered spouse saying they plan to take their ex to the cleaners. Not only is the unlikely to actually happen in reality, given the legal position of the family courts in Britain, it’s also an unhealthy attitude to take as it only means you’re likely to be disappointed in the end result. Don’t over focus on what you want or think you ‘deserve’ from your former partner or how you want to avoid them sharing in the matrimonial wealth. Instead try to be even handed and consider what would be best for everyone involved, yourself, your ex and your children.

3. Get your legal facts straight so that you don’t take an inappropriate starting position. So often, the parties are entrenched into a position of conflict before they’ve even picked up the phone to a lawyer. Many clients have no understanding of mediation and, indeed, mistrust the process as a further waste of money. Yet mediation can be a useful, neutral space in which to start the negotiation process, provided that is you feel confident in your position, which is where your lawyer comes into play.

A solicitor will help you understand your options and progress negotiations. It’s a cliché that only the lawyers benefit from the enormous fees generated by an embittered family dispute. The reality is that no good divorce lawyer takes delight at seeing a family annihilate itself. In fact they will always be looking at the broader picture and advising negotiation and compromise where it is appropriate. Looking after your best interests using a 360 degree approach.

The judiciary are pushing back and encouraging couples to negotiate and reach settlements outside of the court room and Justice secretary Dominic Raab said at the end of November 2021 he was “in the market for something quite drastic and bold” to reduce the number of private law family cases in the courts. So those who don’t agree can expect to start to see the family courts refusing to hear their cases, or as is already happening offering court hearings way into the future, to encourage couples to reach a compromise.

Fiona Spinks
Divorce and family solicitor Cambridge

Blog Author - Fiona Spinks

Fiona SpinksFiona Spinks

Fiona is a very experienced family law solicitor based in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. She advises clients on a full range of family law matters.


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