Chocolates, flowers and a divorce

Valentine’s Day should be a romance fest but can sometimes signal the end. Which is where the right legal solution can help.

What is meant to be the most romantic day of the year is also a popular time for many couples to call an end to their marriage. But with a variety of options available, divorce doesn’t always need to become a courtroom battle.

Valentine’s Day 2013 was a marketing opportunity for one enterprising divorce lawyer in Michigan. He decided to offer a free divorce to anyone who could come up with the most miserable, woeful and depressing story culminating in a separation. Potential ‘winners’ were invited to share their stories in the hope of being provided a totally free divorce. He received over 500 entries.

This is undoubtedly a very un-British approach to legal marketing but if the press is to be believed, it reflects the trend for more family breakdowns at this time of year. The hotbed of emotions and expectations surrounding Valentine’s Day can cause these breakdowns to be the angriest divorce lawyers see. The lawyer’s job is to see through those emotions and guide the client through the legal process.

There are now a range of options to resolve conflict which your lawyer can advise you of, allowing you to make an informed decision about the process which would best suit you and your family circumstances.

Mediation: Couples will attend mediation sessions with a fully trained mediator (often with a background in finance or family law) who will provide neutral guidance to the couple. Once an agreement has been reached, the mediator will produce a summary which the lawyers will (hopefully) implement.

Collaborative Law: Couples will each have their own lawyer to represent them in a series of round-table meetings. The lawyers make a ‘no court’ promise, and cannot act in the event that the collaborative process breaks down. Where necessary, third-party neutral advisors (financial planners, consultants to help manage the emotional journey, etc.) can be introduced so that the right professional is paid to do the best for the client.

Lawyer-To-Lawyer Negotiations: Again, each person has their own lawyer but there is an agreement to undertake the negotiations informally, often at a round-table meeting. If things cannot be agreed that way, the court might be relied upon.

Arbitration: The couple (via lawyers) appoint an arbitrator who will impose a decision on them. This can be particularly helpful in high-conflict divorces where the parties have busy schedules or wish to resolve matters away from the media.

Of course, for individuals who are vulnerable, face uncooperative, unreasonable or unrealistic ex-partners or are just really angry, litigation may still provide the best forum for managing the dispute. The key is for you to make that decision, having been informed about and guided through the various options available.

Zoё Bloom, family law specialist partner, Keystone Law