When a person is going through a divorce and separation, he/she has a range of needs: emotional needs for support to manage the change and trauma, legal advice about his/her legal rights and mediation to come to an agreement about child care and financial matters to prevent going to the court.
What does a Family Solicitor do?
Family Solicitors work within the field of the law and give advice to individual clients. Most of the time a Family Solicitor takes the history from the client to find out what the dispute may be about. The client is advised what their legal rights are. Legal language may be used but explained in layman terms to the client.
Family Solicitors tend not to have received training on psychological matters. Instructions are taken from the client based on their version of events and what their views are about matters for the children. Advice is given to the client on what will be the best form of action to take.
When financial and children matters are negotiated this tends to be done in writing or on the phone. If matters cannot be agreed or if matters do agree then an application can be made to the court.
What does a Family Mediator do?
Family Mediators meet with both partners from the start of the mediation process. The couple may not want to separate so it is explored with the couple if they plan to reconcile, have a temporary or long term separation.
If the couple do want to reconcile then the couple may be sign posted to couple counselling.
Mediators work closely with Family Solicitors and even more so now due to recent changes for separating couples to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting).
If clients want to mediate then they will need to complete an agreement to mediate. Work with the clients tends to be over several months but there are a few cases that go on for longer than this.
In mediation we tend to focus on what is happening now and do not really look back to the past as much. A lot of the sessions focus on what should happen on the decisions on the children which may be in the form of a parenting plan and what should happen financially.
The goal of mediation is to help the couple reach proposals.
At times you have to be a referee to stop arguments escalating and get the couple to refocus to discuss the issues they have come to discuss. If one client does not feel able to talk then the mediator aims to give them the opportunity and confidence to talk. If proposals are reached then a Memorandum of Understanding and / or Open Financial Summary documents is/are prepared.
What does a Counsellor do?
As stated above, divorce or separation is a traumatic time for couples, and they may need emotional support to manage such a transition.
The Counsellor may counsel one partner on their own or work with the couple if they have done further training to work with couples. If the couple wants to stay together then the goal may be how to achieve reconciliation.
Counselling does not tend to be linked to the legal process but if the client is attending Collaborative Law the Counsellor may be involved in the room with Lawyers.
The counselling process usually starts with a meeting for an initial assessment. Depending on the needs and wishes of the clients, counselling could be long term or short term. This will usually be set out in an agreement between the Counsellor and the client(s).
Regular reviews of the agreement will be held in order to avoid drift or undue dependency on the Counsellor. While the goals of a Solicitor are to give advice to a client about his/her legal rights, the aim of the Counsellor is to facilitate and empower the client to increase his/her understanding into their problems and find solutions to the problems.
Austin Chessell is an accredited Family and Child Mediator at FAMIA (www.famia.co.uk) across Inner and Greater London. Austin is also a Professional Practice Consultant.
Austin is a Collaborative Family Solicitor at Feltons Solicitors in Knightsbridge.