Resolve and thou art free

Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty.……fairy tales carried in our psyche from childhood: the glass slipper fitted and she became his bride; the poisonous apple was dislodged by the handsome Prince’s kiss and off they went into a sunset; the doomed maiden saved by another magic caress of the lips.

And they all lived happily ever after…

In reality, “till death us do part”, just doesn’t seem to always go according to plan! The UK Office for National Statistics released the most recent figures on divorce in England and Wales (figures for 2016). According to these divorce statistics, 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. 102,007 couples divorced in 2017 (the most recent year for which official statistics are currently available.) Around half of these divorces occurred in the first ten years of marriage and the most common ground for divorce was unreasonable behaviour.  For the majority of divorces, the wife was the Petitioner.

 Of course, it is not just marriages that break down. An article in the Telegraph (I April 2017 Olivia Rudgard), relates that more families involving unmarried than married couples are breaking down. Analysis of the official figures show that despite unmarried couples with children making up just one in five of all parents, they now account for more than 50% of splits which involve children.

This is no fairy tale.

I have not met a couple yet who have not shown any of the emotions divorce or separation involves: grief, despair, guilt, frustration, anxiety and anger to name a few. Coupled with this, is the often seemingly overwhelming and formidable task of how to divide assets to enable each party and any children of the relationship, to move on with their lives. Often the only avenue seen as available is to instruct a litigation lawyer.  

I was a litigation lawyer for 30 years. Litigation is essentially the process of taking legal action and is still the main method in England and Wales by which parties seek to resolve civil disputes. Each party instructs their own lawyer and that lawyer will fight for the best possible outcome for that party, their client.  So begins a process that is invariably protracted, bitter and expensive… sometimes very, very expensive. Whilst there is no one definitive answer to how much legal costs will be, the reality is that the legal costs can reach tens of thousands of pounds for each party. If the case does go to court, then often costs surpass £50,000, and any “victory” one party may have won, pales into insignificance when presented with their final bill. Furthermore, both parties become further entrenched and embittered, leading to acrimony for the years to come.

I took the decision to leave litigation law and become a Mediator.

Am I anti lawyers? No. There is always a place for lawyers and they have their uses. A good lawyer is invaluable for giving realistic advice on the law as it stands and providing a party with a parameter of expectation as regards financial division of assets and co-parenting. I often signpost both parties to taking a one-off legal advice. However, mediation allows couples to reach resolution in the most civilised and cost- effective way possible.

The process is that I see each party separately for one session and then for anything up to six joint sessions. I personally will see clients at weekends and evenings at a time of their choosing. As a mediator, I am a facilitator. I am an impartial third party and assist disputing couples to reach agreement by engaging in a structured, dynamic, interactive process. I will not take a party’s side but will always stand by each party’s side to see the reasoning behind a stance. It is often the fear of the unknown and lack of forum to communicate which fosters resentment, attack and delay.

I am not a counsellor. Counselling is professional assistance and guidance in resolving personal or psychological problems. Mediation is for when the parties may have tried counselling and want to now part ways.  Mediation explores what the parties would like in terms of a financial split and co-parenting, and in face to face interaction, common ground can be found.I have found that people are unique, but patterns repeat and very little now takes me by surprise.

 I think of Mr Mrs X as a case in point.

Mr Mrs X had been married for 25 years. There were three children of the relationship and the youngest was still living at home. Mr and Mrs X were in their 50's. Mr X left suddenly one day, a note placed on the kitchen table to say that he had gone to live with Ms Y.  Ms Y was 15 years younger and had been a very good friend of both parties. She used to babysit their children on occasion. Understandably, tensions ran high. There were five mediation sessions involving honest and confidential facilitated discussion and the exploration of options.  Mr X had been deeply unhappy for years and Mrs X no longer cared for Mr X but was tortured at the prospect of any children that were not of their relationship being entitled to any of the financial security they had built together. An Agreement was reached that would protect each party’s equitable share of the property and safeguard the children’s future inheritance.

In most cases I mediate, there are children involved. It is rare that I find parents who do not want the best for their children, whatever their personal feelings towards one another. Parents are forever. There will be future 18th birthday parties, weddings and family occasions on each parent’s side. I have not met a couple yet, where with clear head, they would prioritise payment of legal fees and point scoring over their children’s financial security and emotional well-being.

When all is said and done, if you are a couple who have reached the crossroads of divorce, why not give mediation a go? Mediation is a process that enables  conflict to be minimised and permits a certain dignity that litigation does not favour. I believe mediation is the calmest, swiftest and most civilised way to reach a settlement and allows a family to move on with their lives.


Tracey Given (LLB)