By Lisa-Marie Leanders, Legal Director and Solicitor
The UK is expected to experience a surge in divorces this year, as proceedings are estimated to increase by more than 50 per cent. A combination of factors – from the aftermath of pandemic lockdowns to cost of living pressures – is leading to more couples considering untying the knot.
But while divorce proceedings are becoming more common, it can still be a delicate process to undertake. A straightforward divorce can be complicated if court proceedings to resolve issues such as finances or children are not handled with care.
However, there are several ways to resolve the issues arising from couples deciding to divorce, which will keep them out of the courtroom.
Here are four alternative dispute resolution methods people can look into to potentially keep their divorce out of court:
Explore Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods
Legal professionals and judges alike agree that court really should be a last resort; exploring all other options should be a priority. One benefit is avoiding the detrimental effects that court proceedings often have on the family unit and, most importantly, the children involved.
The first port of call should be family mediation. This alternative dispute resolution aims to help couples going through a divorce sit down together, talk openly, and find solutions. These issues can be financial or related to parental matters, where a compromise may be difficult to reach without a discussion.
Understandably, some couples may find this face-to-face approach difficult to deal with. But they should be reassured that a professional, independent mediator will oversee each session. This ensures each party has the opportunity to speak about the matters in dispute.
The process can be kept civil through this method, and any resulting agreement can be recorded in writing. Dealing with issues directly means they can be resolved quickly.
Couples can potentially also avoid court through another alternative dispute resolution method known as collaborative law. Collaborative law requires each party to select a specialist family solicitor and engage in a series of four-way meetings hoping to come to an agreement.
While similar to family mediation, this approach ensures that your legal representative is present for all discussions. The open dialogue that ensues can be instrumental in negotiating an agreement that the court would then be willing to ratify.
Arbitration is another alternative dispute resolution where couples will agree to hand over control of their case to an arbitrator who is appointed to settle the disputed matters, much like a judge would.
Although this means that the parties relinquish a level of control over the proceedings, they have decisions made for them by the arbitrator, who is acting independently and impartially. This generally leads to reaching a swifter settlement than through court proceedings.
Private financial remedy proceedings (PFDRs)
Lastly, either during or before financial remedy proceedings, the parties can opt to instruct a ‘judge’ – usually a senior barrister or retired judge – to consider their case and give an indication as to the appropriate outcome.
This can take place anywhere and at a time convenient to the judge. The parties and their legal representatives then either agree on a settlement or significantly narrow the issues far more quickly and less expensively than a court-listed FDR.
Why You Should Avoid Court
As well as avoiding a significant escalation in legal costs, all these methods can help proceedings to be less physically and emotionally confrontational. This can help everyone involved move forward from the divorce sooner and with less unresolved anger.
The less complex nature of alternative dispute resolution methods also leaves it more likely that parties can maintain important family relationships after everything.
By avoiding the court route, the parties themselves get to reach an agreement that is not imposed upon them. From start to finish, the couple remains in charge and retains some control over the outcome, which can provide comfort and peace of mind.
However, it remains vital that the agreement reached is one that the court would endorse. Solicitors must therefore set expectations for their clients and be clear on what they may be entitled to.
Again, this legal interjection should help to ensure a swifter agreement is achieved without the need for an application to the court. Both parties will know what a reasonable outcome for them may look like.
If you are unsure about what to expect, speak to a legal professional before starting divorce proceedings or financial negotiations. This can help with understanding the process you are about to embark on, what options are available to you, likely costs and timescales, and what you can ultimately hope to achieve.
Lisa-Marie Leanders is a Legal Director and Solicitor at Nelsons. She qualified as a Solicitor in 2003, was part of the Nelsons’ expert Family Law team from 2010 to 2016 and then rejoined the team in December 2020, following Nelsons acquisition of Glynis Wright & Co.
Lisa-Marie specialises in family law and advises on divorce and financial settlements which involve complex issues and substantial assets. She also advises on pre and postnuptial agreements, separation agreements and cohabitation agreements along with private law Children Act disputes. https://www.nelsonslaw.co.uk/people/lisa-marie-leanders/