Why are Family Lawyers calling for “Our divorce laws” to be changed?

A spokesman for Resolution has “tweeted” with regard to an article in the Times published on 31 October that our divorce laws are needlessly painful for families.

I am a member of Resolution in my capacity as an accredited FMC and Law Society Family Mediator.  The statements flying about at present on behalf of Resolution do not necessarily reflect the attitudes and beliefs of all members.

I have been a member since the 1990s when I was in practice as a family solicitor. I was proud to belong to Resolution, previously called the Solicitors Family Law Association, in light of the code of conduct we adhered to and which helped family lawyers to advise and represent clients going through divorce.

The existing statute that governs all divorces in this country is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.  This is the law I have become familiar with over many years and I try to help clients who attend family mediation to understand the rationale of the statute.    The statute has worked for a long time but changes took place some four years ago when the Ministry of Justice brought family mediation firmly into the legal process.  This initiative has helped divorcing couples to find alternative and workable methods to deal with the string of issues that have to be discussed and dealt with when a marriage comes to an end.

People are comfortable negotiating in the right conditions and they have acknowledged the importance of finding good family mediators, rather than solicitors at the outset to help them find a way to communicate in often extremely difficult circumstances. I appreciate this seed change must be hard for many hard working solicitors to adapt to.

So, I ask myself why Resolution is driving this campaign for change so hard.  The drafting of a petition falls within the domain of the skills of a good family solicitor to draft the petition appropriately.

How does the No Fault Divorce work in practice?   I really cannot imagine that it actually helps the parties move forwards in view of the normally high emotions involved in a relationship break up.

The real problem is that the adversarial and hostile approach adopted by many family lawyers is simply too much for many people to bear when they are in need of stable and clear help to extricate themselves from a failed marriage. I meet people within mediation who find themselves running from a battle ground that frequently they do not understand and certainly do not want to be a part of. They certainly don’t want to be paying for it.

The search for a fair solution is at the front of so many of my mediation clients.  People are not stupid and they know that continuing a battle with their soon to be ex spouse causes immense damage to an existing difficult situation and, in particular, to their relationship with their children.

Maybe I am missing the point here. I believe that family solicitors are trying to restore a market that has changed. The awareness that family mediation exists is vital and should not be hidden.  The shift has moved away from people buying into lawyers to meet their every need when they are in despair.

Sadly, many people are not being informed of the huge advantages of engaging in family mediation at an early stage and I am not convinced it is for the right reasons. This in turn can make family solicitors unpopular which, is certainly not within my remit.

Respect and clear information is key and family mediation offers this on an entirely neutral and impartial basis and, ideally at an early stage.  Clients need to make decisions for themselves with the assistance of a trained and qualified family mediator.

There is no legal requirement for people to meet an accredited family mediator at the beginning of their dispute. There remains free will and I do not believe that family mediation should be compulsory.  I do not wish to see competition between solicitors and family mediators. It is vital that organisations like Resolution help to improve good practice between the professions and so there may be an ongoing relationship of trust between solicitors and family mediators to work together.

I would welcome a move on the part of Resolution to explore the benefits of this occurring to enable clients to engage in family mediation as well as seeking excellent partial legal advice from a family solicitor who acknowledges the benefits to the client.  I do not know whether this will be achieved from a change in the existing divorce laws.  I leave that decision to the lawyers.

Resolution believes that changing the divorce laws is the answer. This would certainly regenerate the need for clients to come back into solicitor’s offices to initiate proceedings. Is this trying to turn the clocks back?

My hope is that people will continue to learn about the advantages, themselves, of engaging in family mediation to obtain information and self-esteem to make good decisions and with the assistance of a highly trained professional facilitator who is present to offer a tried and tested process that leads to positive results.

The job remains to be finalised with the firm resource of safe and partial legal advice to ensure both parties to a dispute have all the relevant information they need to tailor their own futures.

The day will come when family solicitors and family mediators will realise their individual and separate skills and strengths which if combined, will genuinely help clients resolve their cases without being exposed to huge costs.

If you are interested in learning more about taking part in impartial family mediation, please contact Tricia Muzalewski, FMCA and Law Society Accredited, at Wynn Mediation.

Email: enquiries@wynnmediation.com or telephone: 01702 341241

November 2017

PMM