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Creative Ways to Avoid The Divorce Courts

  

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divorceDivorce or the breakdown of a family unit can be difficult at the best of times but some couples are opting to reduce the stress by seeking an agreement without involving the courts.

Collaborative divorce and Principled Negotiation both offer ways of avoiding or minimising court time.

The collaborative process allows couples (married or not), and their legal representatives, to resolve matters between themselves, without involving the court. The results are faster, costs are more easily controlled and the process is constructive, rather than confrontational.

Collaboration requires a refreshingly different approach to traditional divorced, as Jo Stone, Partner and Head of Stephens Scown's family and divorce law team in Truro explains: “A collaborative agreement requires more transparency, pragmatism and information sharing. It builds trust between separating couples.

“To achieve a successful outcome both spouses need to be open and transparent with each other and be prepared to move towards an agreement which works for both parties for the long term. They must both employ a lawyer who is trained in collaborative law.”

Although it has some clear benefits, the collaborative process is not suitable for everyone. Jo Stone, who is trained in collaborative divorce, explains: “Everyone’s circumstances are different and before choosing the collaborative route it is important to ask yourself some important questions. Would you be comfortable discussing personal matters with your partner and their lawyer? Do you trust your partner, and yourself, to be honest about financial matters? Are you happy to think creatively to reach an agreement? If the answer to any of these questions is no, a traditional divorce involving the courts may be the better option for you.”

The collaborative process involves a series of carefully planned round table meetings involving both lawyers and spouses. A written participation agreement ensures that neither party will rush off to court, and that neither party will keep any secrets from the other. Jo Stone explains: “It turns the traditional cloak and dagger approach on its head: it is open, constructive and requires the couple to work together, which is essential where they may have children or business interests in common for years to come.”

Principled Negotiation can also lead to successful outcomes for couples, cutting down on the length of time and stress of a confrontational divorce. However, to be successful both parties need to approach the negotiation in a principled way.

Michael Lowry, partner and head of Stephen Scown’s family law team in St Austell explains: “Unprincipled negotiation is doomed to failure. By that I mean taking a confrontational approach, being disrespectful, attempting to intimidate or having a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. Principled negotiation, where both parties are respectful and are prepared to compromise to reach an agreement, is much more effective.”

In order to succeed negotiation relies on full and frank disclosure by both parties at the start of the process, particularly regarding finances and money matters. If that happens, negotiation can be very effective, especially if you take the right approach to it.

Michael Lowry, who is a trained negotiator, explains: “By thinking about the interests of both parties and not just the outcomes you can reach a much faster agreement. A great example to show this is two children arguing over an orange. Their mother solves the problem by halving it and giving a piece to each child. But she just focussed on the outcome. If she had understood the interests of each child she would have known that one wanted the peel to use in making a cake and the other wanted to eat the fruit. Her solution meant that neither child got exactly what they wanted. The same can happen with divorce negotiations.”

Another approach which can help is to think about what each party thinks is most important and offer incentives that will interest them. Michael adds: “If one party is most interested in the cash settlement, an offer which gives them quicker access to cash than may be available through money locked into a property may be agreeable to them, even if the cash settlement is slightly less than they had originally hoped for.”

Whether a couple opts for a collaborative approach or a negotiation, it is crucial to have the right legal advice and support from solicitors trained in the approach that you want to take. With that in place and the right approach to the process, couples can reap the benefits of avoiding the divorce courts.

Stephens Scown’s family law team is regarded as one of the best in the South West, consistently being given top ranking by independent legal guides Chambers and Legal 500. Jo Stone can be contacted on 01872 265100 and Michael Lowry on 01726 74433. To email Jo or Michael email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk

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