27th Mar 2020

Resolving family law issues during lockdown

By James Pirrie

Resolving family law issues during lockdown can feel overwhelming.

At FLiP we are here to help, whether you need our help:

  • As your solicitor; or
  • As a neutral to help you and your former partner make decisions or reach a conclusion in our capacity as either a mediator or an arbitrator.

The options

If we act for you as your solicitor:

    1. We can advise you.
    2. We can act for you … but only you.

We can’t advise your ex and your ex would then instruct their own lawyer. A discussion would commence, focused on promoting your rights and achieving the outcome that you seek. This might include referring you to other services such as mediation or arbitration.

If we act for you as a mediator:

    1. We can’t advise either of you – but we can give you both broad information about what the law says – so often you will have a pretty good understanding of your rights anyway (family law is pretty vague about rights!).
    2. The real focus of our involvement is to facilitate the conversation between the two of you so that you are able to reach agreements that make the best of the situation.
    3. We will always recommend that you take advice on the solution that we have worked out … whether you do so or not will remain your choice.
    4. Mediation therefore:
      • can get into the heart of the issue quickly;
      • it enables you to find your own better solutions (because the law is just part of the background);
      • and it is, of course, a lot cheaper (because you are only paying for one professional between you as opposed to one each).

As your mediator, we can’t impose an outcome but because we can help you to be mindful of what your alternatives are likely to be, it is often easier for parties to view the full range of options and reach best-possible conclusions for an issue that may currently seem impossible to solve.

If we act as an arbitrator:

    1. We are in the position of a judge …
    2. If you and your partner can reach an agreement, then that is great … but we can’t get involved in helping you to work out an agreement.
    3. Our role is limited to:
      1. Hearing the evidence
      2. And applying the law.
    4. This process is bound to be slower – but unlike the first two options outlined above, it will impose an outcome.

How can all of this work with the current restrictions on movement?

As a solicitor:

  • A large number of solicitors, including FLiP, are “teched-up”.
  • We can advise you online and it should be possible to introduce your ex to another solicitor (if they do not already have one) and quickly move towards having a constructive negotiation between the four of us to help things progress and hopefully reach an agreement.
  • If an agreement is not possible then you would have to decide on your alternatives which might involve using the court process to provide a solution.

As a mediator:

  • We would contact your ex and offer our services as a mediator.
  • They might agree to appoint us jointly with you to resolve the issue between you then we would go forward and have a 3-way meeting on-line.
  • We will always precede this with a 1-to-1 meeting on-line with each of you.

As an arbitrator:

  • We can be appointed by you both directly or through your solicitors.
  • Before taking that step, you would have detailed written information and an online meeting to discuss how the system would work to enable you to consider your options:
    • Whether the system was right for you
    • Whether to appoint a lawyer to help you (if you had not done so already)
    • And only if those issues were clear would we then consider how the evidence is going to be collected so that a determination can be made.

Inevitably, this process is going to be slower … it replaces a court process that will often take 9-15 months and so cannot usually be completed in a matter of days unless the issues are very clear and relatively straight-forward and there is focused and constructive engagement in the process from each of you.

So you can see that our roles would be different and the help that we give would be different:

  • Whether we are acting only for you as your solicitor;
  • Or whether we have a non-aligned role, holding the ring between you as a mediator or arbitrator.

If you still feel in a quandary, then usually what you will need is direct support and advice from us as your solicitor … from there we will help you to work out whether:

  • direct solicitor negotiation is going to be best for you;
  • or perhaps referral to mediation or arbitration services so that you can progress through that forum to reach the right outcome.

The option to move into mediation or arbitration would remain even if you had appointed a solicitor to help you … we would be aiming to help you to decide how best to go forward including whether mediation or arbitration would provide best options for you.

For further information and advice on resolving your family law issues during lockdown, please contact any of our top London divorce lawyers and family mediators on E: hello@flip.co.uk or T: 020 7420 5000.