Court proceedings should always be a last resort in matrimonial cases. Parties who are willing to settle a dispute without the help of a third party should be encouraged to do so as a starting point. Agreements can be reached 'over the kitchen table', via solicitor correspondence, by way of mediation, via the collaborative process or through arbitration. Any of these options coupled with the correct legal advice mean that in the majority of cases it should be possible to avoid the cost and stress of going to court. On other occasions disputes are intractable and it is inevitable that court proceedings will ensue.
• In the event the issues being discussed are too complex or there are tensions between the parties, it may be easier to approach a solicitor to negotiate matters on your behalf. Solicitors are used to such negotiations and understand what is a fair and reasonable settlement. They can remove the burden of resolving financial matters from the client whilst being able to talk them through the process.
• During the process of mediation the parties attend a series of face to face meetings, assisted by a mediator who is a professional trained to help resolve disputes over all issues faced by separating couples, or specific issues such as arrangements for children. The mediator will assist the parties to identify those issues in dispute and try to enable the parties to reach a consensus without proving legal advice. Clients are advised to see independent legal advice before coming to an agreement in mediation.
• By virtue of the collaborative process, each person appoints their own collaboratively trained lawyer and all parties meet face to face with their appointed representatives to attempt to reach an agreement.
In the event an agreement is reached, each of the parties and their representatives sign an agreement that commits them to trying to resolve the issues without going to court and prevents the representatives from further acting in the event the agreement breaks down.
• In family arbitration the parties appoint an arbitrator, who acts as an unofficial judge. The arbitrator's decision on financial and property disputes arising from family relationships will be final and binding between the parties.