Interview by Alternative Divorce Guide Suzy Miller with Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer Kim Beatson of Anthony Gold Solicitors
What is the best way to go through divorce?
As the Alternative Divorce Guide I often get asked if my role is to guide people back into their marriage, and away from divorce. I explain patiently each time that people need to be allowed to make their own decisions about whether they divorce or not – all I do is to wave the flag for doing it in a way that doesn’t destroy their family, even though that family is now changing it’s form.
Collaborative Divorce and Divorce Mediation are both roads that lead away from the courtroom, but some may see them as in competition. One includes lawyers by the sides of the divorcing couple, and the other relies on an impartial Mediator (sometimes more than one) helping the couple to create their own settlement and plan a new future.
Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer Kim Beatson of Anthony Gold Solicitors is experienced in supporting couples through divorce, and knows that the choice of dispute resolution method is a very personal one:
“I would say to anyone: ‘Here is my options leaflet, giving you the choices of Mediation, Collaborative Law, lawyer-led mediation or the court system. It’s your choice. Think about those options carefully.’”
Why don’t people know more about it?
What continually shocks me is that so few members of the public have ever heard of Collaborative Law, let alone know what it means. Kim explained to me why this is the case:
“Mediation awareness was funded by the government for a time, and Divorce Mediation has been around in the UK since the mid 80’s. Collaborative law has only been around in the UK since 2003. The main people who have to take responsibility for the fact that the public are mostly unaware of Collaborative Law, are the lawyers. Most clients still come to lawyers as the gate keeper, and the onus is on the person taking those initial telephone calls and making those appointments to let them know that court is the last resort, and that there are preferred resolution options. That is what I am trying to make sure happens in my own practice at Anthony Gold Solicitors.”
What happens if you’re not legally married?
Having gone through family change having not been legally married, I am fully aware of the lack of legal rights for cohabiting couples to protect them if the relationship fails. This is why I am so persistent in spreading the word of dispute resolution, as a court-based approach is even more unsatisfactory for such couples as it is for those who are legally married.
With the increase in people not getting married and then breaking up post-children, I asked Kim why those couples need to become more aware of the choices open to them:
“Dispute resolution processes, whether Mediation or Collaborative, can be very useful for couples who separate having been cohabiting and who are not legally married. In this country people do not always realise that they have few rights for themselves which can be very unfair after a long relationship with children, with career and pension sacrifices.
So Mediation and Collaborative Law are perfect forums for dissolving that sort of relationship because the importance for both parties is that they are bringing their idea of fairness to the table. They are not trying to emulate the court system and the uncertain outcome that could be achieved. They are able to set the agenda and create their own solution to their family dispute.”
Does Dispute Resolution make business sense for law firms?
A phrase I often hear is: “Ah, well, law firms don’t want to encourage Mediation and Collaborative Law because they make more money from adversarial processes”. However, I personally believe such views are very short-sighted, and I brought this question up during my interview with Kim: “I think there is a sound business model for all forms of dispute resolution. It’s good for the client, but ensures a good cash flow for the professionals as it’s so much quicker than remuneration from court-based cases.
So there is every reason for regarding it as a complementary practice, and it creates a much more authentic solicitor-client relationship if you are not only able to offer clients the most expensive option – that of going to court.”
What does the future hold for dispute resolution?
My own belief that lawyers are going to lose their status as the gatekeepers to divorce is not always a popular one with divorce solicitors, but Kim had some thoughtful insights into how Dispute Resolution is evolving in the UK:
“I think this government has missed an opportunity with Mediation with no further funding to support the encouragement for clients to use MIAMS. Solicitors and all family law professionals are responsible for getting the word out there for all forms of dispute resolution, and for encouraging the client to access them. It is an accident that family lawyers are dealing with finance and parenting arrangements during family breakdown. So we have to be quite humble about the power of our roles. Research does show that clients prefer independent financial advice and having their own independent lawyer.
But I think there will be a day when couples enter the separation process through a variety of services and that family lawyers really should not to take it for granted that they are necessarily the best person to deal with every aspect of the divorce process, or that they should be the natural gatekeepers to divorce.”