I want to resolve issues arising from my separation or divorce without going to the Court – what are my options?

December 2, 2022

There are several different options when it comes to resolving family law disputes. This can mean that couples do not have to go to Court. This is even more important in the current climate where the overstretched Family Courts are facing delays and backlogs. We regularly consider the different options with our clients (where it is safe and appropriate to do so). We provide details below of some of the most common options and approaches that you may wish to consider.

1. DIY – reaching an agreement between yourselves

Sometimes separating couples can reach their own agreement without professional support especially where there remains good communication and the issues are straightforward. However, it can be a complex process so you may find it useful to have a meeting with a legal adviser to check that you have covered everything and you fully understand the implications of any agreements and decisions you make. It is important that any agreements reached are formally recorded and made legally binding (if appropriate). We often help couples to record their agreements by preparing a Consent Order.

2. Mediation

Family mediation is a voluntary process whereby the mediator, an independent/impartial third party, facilitates negotiations and discussions between the couple. These discussions are confidential subject to some limited exceptions, for instance if there is a concern of risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult.

The mediator does not make decisions for the couple. The hope is that the mediator can help to facilitate an agreement between the couple regarding their dispute rather than having something imposed on them.

Family mediation can be used to resolve issues in respect of your divorce, separation, the family finances, or arrangements relating to children.

For more details see our Family Mediation FAQs article –Family Mediation FAQs

3. Lawyer negotiation

This is where you appoint a legal representative to negotiate on your behalf. They then may negotiate with your partner/spouse’s legal representative, or with them direct if they do not have a legal representative. Your solicitor will provide you with legal advice and try to negotiate a settlement on your behalf.

4. Collaborative law

The collaborative law approach is designed to deliver a “good divorce”, which means a dignified process leading to an outcome you both agree with. It was designed to prevent the damage that can be caused by traditional litigation.

Under the process, each party appoints their own collaboratively trained legal representative. Almost all the work is carried out in meetings with both the clients and their respective legal representatives attending. The idea is that you try and resolve matters in an open, honest, and constructive manner without issuing Court proceedings. Both parties will have their legal representative by their side throughout the process and will have their support and legal advice as they go. The process can also involve other experts such as an independent financial adviser, a family consultation, an accountant, or others depending on your circumstances.

5. Arbitration

This is a voluntary process where the separating couple appoint an arbitrator to make a decision about all or parts of their case. An arbitrator can make decisions about finance and property issues and some disputes involving children. An arbitrator’s decision is binding. Arbitration can often be quicker than a Court application. Subject to the arbitrator’s availability, the timetable is up to the parties to agree. The process is protected by strict confidentiality under the relevant scheme rules.

6. Private FDR

Before explaining what a private FDR is, it is important to understand what a traditional FDR is. The Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDR) is a critical stage in financial remedy Court proceedings. This is a without prejudice hearing which means that any concessions made at the hearing cannot be brought to the Court’s attention later on. This allows parties to negotiate without the fear that any concessions will be used against them later down the line. At that hearing, the Judge will often give an indication as to what they think a fair outcome would be in the case which can help with negotiations.

A private FDR is a voluntary hearing. The parties will pay an agreed specialist (usually an experienced barrister, solicitor, or retired judge) to act as a private FDR judge to express a view on what the likely outcome could be to try and assist the parties in reaching a settlement. This is becoming a more popular option in financial cases due to the increasing pressures and delays faced when cases are dealt with within the Court process.

If you would like any further information about the above options, please do get in touch by calling 01603 679050 or emailing info@bblfamilylaw.com.

*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.