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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Settling family and relationship disputes: what are the options?

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When a relationship or marriage breaks down, there is often a huge amount to sort out. Some things may be easy, but you can then get hung up on one tiny detail. Add to that the fact that you and your partner are soon to be ex-partners, so are probably not on the best of terms, and you can see why it can be difficult to reach agreement.

If a couple cannot agree on how all their affairs will be settled, from the house to bank accounts to where children live, the courts will need to get involved to make the tough decisions for them. At this stage, it can seem that you start to lose control, not just because you are at the mercy of court hearings and timetables, but also because a judge will make a dispassionate, logical decision on any outstanding issues to be settled and this might not be appealing to either party.

So, if you want to avoid this, what can you do to try and thrash out an agreement when it may seem like you have hit a brick wall? Well there are several options I would suggest.

MediationFamily mediation is not counselling. It is not attempting to patch up a relationship but instead looks at what needs to be sorted out now the relationship has ended. There is no legal advice element, so while mediators may be able to help you reach agreement on sticky topics by discussing them with you calmly, an experienced family solicitor will still be needed to draw up any documentation to formalise the arrangements.

Negotiating through lawyers – an experienced family lawyer should be consulted as a matter of course to advise on the options available which will depend on unique, individual circumstances. There is always likely to be more than one right answer to pursue and a solicitor can give you a view on what to reasonably expect and what may be unrealistic. For your part, you should give clear instructions on what you want to achieve. In most of our cases, we manage to reach agreement for our clients without the need to involve the courts in any decision-making.

Court proceedings – as I have just said, we do manage to avoid this most of the time and wherever possible (apart from anything else, it keeps your costs down), but in some cases it is unavoidable. The court will make a judgement on how things should be settled but the reality is this may not be a good outcome for either party. Unfortunately, by this stage, you will have relinquished that level of control and will be ordered by the court to reach agreement or be obliged to adhere to any ruling the judge makes

There are lots of things you can do to help yourself, like ensuring you have all your financial information to hand, genuinely do your best to reach agreement and putting the children’s wellbeing at the heart of any discussions that relate to them. Remember though, that a divorce does not have to be a battle. The relationship may have broken down but that does not mean you cannot both behave like adults to find a pragmatic solution to sorting out the details before moving on with your lives.

Kate Butler
Family solicitor, Northamptonshire

For a more detailed view of how you can help yourself when there are finances and children involved read Kate’s article Getting to an agreement when a relationship breaks down.

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