Reducing the stress of divorce and separation by working together
Sep 2023
Divorce & Family

Reducing the stress of divorce and separation by working together

Fiona Ryans, Senior Associate, Divorce & Family

According to Office for National Statistics figures taken from the 2021 Census, 42 per cent of marriages in the UK now end in divorce.

In 2021, there were 113,505 divorces granted across England and Wales, an increase of almost ten per cent on the previous year,

Divorce is generally acknowledged to be one of the most stressful events that people experience during their lives, and with this in mind, there have been moves over the last few years to try to reduce the challenges that divorcing or separating couples and their families face.

The collaborative approach to divorce enables family law professionals to work with clients to resolve issues in a constructive way.

All collaboratively trained family lawyers are members of Resolution, a nationwide community of family law professionals who are committed to resolving matters without involving the court if possible, other than obtaining a final agreed order if required, and to also working in the best interests of the parties involved.

A holistic approach is adopted and tailored to the specific needs of the family.

The collaborative approach allows couples, their lawyers and other professionals as required to work together in a series of round table meetings to discuss matters and negotiate agreements constructively.

This enables the parties to resolve financial and other issues arising from the breakdown of their relationship together outside the court process.

The approach is designed to reduce the time and stress of the whole process by giving the parties control of their situation and enabling them to work at their own pace.

Couples each have their own legal advisors, but because they are not governed by court rules or timetables, they can set the agenda themselves.

In the meetings, all issues are discussed and ideas shared in a measured and respectful manner, so viewpoints are aired and listened to.

Agreements can be tailored to suit the parties and this often includes matters which would fall outside the traditional court process.

These might be issues of huge significance to the parties and their future as a divided family, so this approach ensures they are discussed and resolved within the framework of the whole settlement.

As an extension of this collaborative approach, changes have now been introduced to allow each party in a divorce or separation to instruct the same solicitor in appropriate cases – and it’s an approach that Fiona Ryans, a solicitor in the family law team at North East law firm Hay & Kilner, expects will become more common in the region as it the benefits become more fully understood.

Fiona is a trained collaborative practitioner and member of Resolution, a committee member of the North East Collaborative Lawyers Group and one of a handful of family lawyers in the region to have undertaken Resolution Together training, which enables her to advise both parties and enables clients to instruct her jointly to assist them both.

She says: “Divorce can happen for any number of reasons, but if there’s an opportunity to make a couple’s journey through divorce as smooth and non-confrontational as possible, it makes sense to investigate doing so.

“The collaborative approach is suitable for couples who have a genuine desire to find a solution for the whole family, and who are willing to disclose information about their finances in a full and honest manner.

“For a variety of reasons they may want their own separate solicitors, but they may both be comfortable with sharing one and now they are able to do this.

“It’s something I’ve been asked about regularly throughout my career, so am delighted to now be able to answer positively when the question is asked. If parties are in agreement, or have a genuine desire to reach an agreement and trust each other, it is definitely an option.”

In order to judge the suitability of a couple appointing the same solicitor, an initial screening process is carried out which examines their individual viewpoints, considers whether both parties are truly willing to work together and carefully assesses whether it’s appropriate that they do so.

Separate discussions are held with each party initially, with a retainer signed at the outset which contains detailed information on how the process will work and what the parameters are.

A joint meeting then takes place and an agreement signed to confirm everything will be shared going forward. This means both parties hear all the advice and are fully aware of everything.

All information is shared - even if one party has a separate conversation with the solicitor, the details of that conversation will be shared with the other.

Outside expertise can be drawn upon if required at any stage from the likes of financial advisors, pensions experts and mediators in order to help reach an agreement, with the solicitor facilitating the overall process.

Fiona Ryans continues: “The aim of the single solicitor approach is to help parties reach an agreement about their separation which meets their needs going forward assisted by someone who has the best interests of everyone involved as their primary focus.

“The approach aims to minimise and remove the barriers to achieving this goal wherever possible.

“Suitability to continue in the single solicitor format is reviewed constantly and if, for whatever reason, it is deemed unsuitable to continue in that way the parties are advised accordingly. They can then change to a collaborative approach with separate solicitors or another appropriate forum, such as mediation.

“It isn’t right for every situation, and wouldn’t be appropriate in, for example, cases of domestic abuse or where the disagreements between the parties are too great, but it has the potential to make a very challenging and emotional situation that bit easier to navigate.”

“There has to be a clear commitment right at the start for everyone involved to share information, be open with each other and work together to reach solutions that are in the interests of the whole family, even if challenges and disagreements arise.

“The initial screening interviews are designed to provide an informed view of whether this commitment can be expected to be maintained, as well as to ensure that the overall process is appropriate for the couple in question, and the process is carefully structured to keep it moving towards a positive outcome.

“Parties can work at their own pace and discuss issues which would not necessarily be raised in the court forum just like the collaborative approach, and other professionals can be involved to facilitate an agreement.

“If a court order is required to record their agreement, then the solicitor will draft it and explain it to both parties before filing it with the court. A legally binding outcome can be achieved, just as it can in the collaborative process.

“We’re only just beginning to see a small number of divorces in the region being conducted jointly, but the indications are that there are clear benefits to be had from couples working together in this way.

“It won’t change the unavoidable fact that the divorce process will be difficult for everyone involved, but it can lead to better overall outcomes and more nuanced arrangements for children.

“Now that this is available, we’re expecting to see an increasing number of couples choosing this option in the North East in the future.”

To find out more about divorcing with a single solicitor, please get in touch with Fiona.

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‘Hay & Kilner’ and ‘Hay & Kilner Law Firm’ are both trading names of Hay & Kilner LLP, a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales with registered number OC418767. Our registered office is at The Lumen, St James' Boulevard, Newcastle Helix, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5BZ and we are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (Authorisation number 643191). We use the word ‘partner’ to refer to a member of Hay & Kilner LLP. A list of the members is available at our registered office.