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You may be splitting up, but things don’t have to fall apart

Filed under: General — triassic @ 3:49 pm Mon 14th March 2005

Sunday March 13, 2005
The Observer

There is never going to be such a thing as ‘a good divorce’ but Suzanne, a 39-year old from East Anglia, reckons hers was ‘probably as good as it gets’. Her decree nisi arrived two weeks ago and her main feelings were of relief and sadness in equal measures.

‘My eight-year-old daughter asked me if we could watch our wedding video – she was 18 months old when we were married,’ she says. ‘I said “No” and tried to explain that it would make me a bit sad because on the day we got married I thought that we would never split up. That really upset me, but I know it’s time to move on.’

Suzanne is a pioneer of sorts. She is one of the very first of a new generation of UK divorcees who have opted for a brand new non-adversarial alternative to the divorce courts. The approach has been imported from the US and goes under the unappealing title of ‘collaborative law’. So far there are about only 100 family lawyers who have been trained in this radically new approach by Resolution (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association).

‘This is a new concept within family law,’ claims Roger Bamber, a Resolution member and a family law specialist at law firm Mills & Reeve. ‘It’s different from the conventional approach because you specifically exclude litigation and all that that implies. The courts polarise attitudes quickly and force couples to accentuate their differences and it is the same for lawyers – if you are preparing for court you have to concentrate on where the differences lie.’

Under the new model, couples and their lawyers work together in round-table meetings to negotiate agreements on financial and other issues without the involvement of the courts. Crucially, you agree from the outset that you will not drag each other through the courts unless negotiations break down – and then you will have to instruct new lawyers.

One lawyer calls this the ‘Jesus bolt’ – referring to the piece of metal connecting helicopter rotors to the engine. If you happen to be in one when the bolt comes out, you’ll only have time to say ‘Jesus’ before you plummet to certain death. The terrifying prospect of the divorce courts should prompt a similar response. Agreements are made with the full support of both you and your partner and, as a consequence, you are far more likely to stick to them.

This month divorce lawyers will be encouraged to curb their more predatory tendencies when Pauline Tesler, the American attorney who is one of the architects of collaborative law, flies in to the UK to train another batch of 250 lawyers. Her approach with her own clients is refreshingly direct. ‘If you would rather give up the right to dance at your daughter’s wedding for another £ 20,000 on the settlement, there are lawyers down the street who would love to help you, and you’ll send their child to university – not yours,’ she tells them.


  1. When a society continues on a path that blatantly ignores the interests of children in favour of gender based politics it deserves what it receives down stream. I suggested to a govt. working party the approach this article speaks of way back in the early 90’s. Lawyers are simply citizens who have obtained skills in understanding law. Some of them you wouldn’t want your children to be left alone with. Others have good souls that it must be bloody hard to put up with the bullshit that goes on in our adversarial system. In our existing system Lawyers have the power (and some relish in it) to take advantage of the vulnerability of angry spouses and encourage them to go into litigation which is clearly against the best interests of their children. This must surely be seen as child abuse?? When people talk of NZ being a great place to bring up children you can be sure of one of two things.
    1. They are female.
    2. They are male and not yet had the misfortune to see their siblings lose contact with them for 80% of the time.

    Once we led the world in the care and health of our children. What in the hell happened????

    Comment by Bryan — Mon 14th March 2005 @ 4:54 pm

  2. Does anyone really think that retrained lawyers will change anything? These are the same lawyers who gave us what we have now!

    Comment by Scrap_The_CSA — Mon 14th March 2005 @ 9:33 pm

  3. I personally think that the fact that professionals are finally acknowledging that:

    “The courts polarise attitudes quickly and force couples to accentuate their differences and it is the same for lawyers…”

    is a positive step.

    Not all lawyers deserve to be tarred with the same brush – I have spoken to several who avoid family court work altogether because they recognise that the current system is corrupt. When we were protesting outside the Auckland court a number of well-known barristers stopped to say “it’s about time fathers did this – keep it up”.

    The removal of financial incentives, which encourage young debt-laden lawyers to add fuel to the fires of divorce in an effort to maximise their fees, can only be a good thing IMO.

    Comment by JohnP — Tue 15th March 2005 @ 9:07 am

  4. I have had 25 lawyers involved in my case, all paid for by the NZ taxpayer! Legal Aid will not give me the full cost so I can tell citizens. I am on the invalids benefit,pay child support, and still I sit here suffering badly from depression due to parental alienation with no access arrangements organised. Crown Law has asked the Human Rights Review Tribunal for strike out and costs regarding case number 28! Ineffective Government legislation is creating more sad Children and Fathers, but the minimally equipped secular Government couldn’t give a hoot as they enjoy destroying families and like to play Daddy. Shame on them as they are all corrupt, and the silent media is guilty for not reporting a insidious crime against the Family ,particularly Children. Remember well, a society that neglects its Children is one generation away from destruction.dad4justice F4J,PADs,PAFs – ChCh.

    Comment by Peter Burns — Tue 15th March 2005 @ 3:08 pm

  5. I found this thread while researching for an assignment i am working on on collaborative law. Rest assured that at waikato university alternative dispute resolution (ADR), collaborative negotiation techniques and mediation are all compulsory parts of the syllabus for law students so maybe things will change for the better in future. It is sad to see so many people hating lawyers. As some of you point out, many are good and care deeply. I think it is always important to remember that it is not the lawyers who caused your relationship to go wrong, decided to refuse you access to your children, cheated on you or any of the other painful things you have experienced. A lawyers job is to go to bat for their client and their clients interests. If a mother is adamant she wants full custody, then whether the lawyer thinks it is fair or not, he/she must do as their client instructs provided it is within the law. Having just done a course in mediation and as i myself am going through a divorce right now with children involved, I think it is important to look at your own contribution to soured relations. My ex and I are not exactly on great terms and he has not paid me a cent towards child care since I asked him to leave one year ago (and I am a full time student so things are tough). Yet, I fully recognize the important role he plays in my childs life and he has her at least two nights every week and at least one full day every weekend. You may not like each other any more, but if you can at least attempt to be civil to each other and put the children before your own needs and wants, you may be surprised at how an apology and request to restart talks on a kinder more civilized note might change things.

    Comment by lawyer-to-be — Thu 14th September 2006 @ 2:47 pm

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