Megan Prideaux offers expert advice on the options available to couples planning to permanently separate

Couples looking to permanently and formally separate (by way of divorce or dissolution) face a daunting amount of decisions and changes ahead. Where there are children involved, their wellbeing and the arrangements for their care moving forwards are key, together with interim living arrangements for the family as well as looking at the wider finances moving forwards. 

There are a number of options and routes available for separating couples to try to help them reach agreements as to what comes next, both with the children and the finances. No two separations are the same and therefore some couples choose one or a combination of these routes to assist them.

If you are separating or in the process of doing so, it is worth bearing in mind the below six options as ways to help you work together to reach amicable solutions, focusing on preserving relationships and minimising the impact on the family.

Direct discussions

Many couples are able to discuss and make decisions about what to do in relation to the children and the finances between themselves. Not only does this limit costs, more importantly it helps preserve and maintain relationships for the future. If discussions start to get off-track or become a cause of tension, inviting a neutral and trusted friend or family member could help.

It is useful to make sure you are prepared for discussions e.g. drawing up a checklist of items to discuss or preparing a schedule of your financial assets. After decisions are made, it is important to keep notes of what was discussed and what you have agreed will happen, sharing and agreeing a document confirming this will be a useful reference tool for the future and discussions with other advisors e.g. your lawyer or financial advisor. It may be sensible to write ‘without prejudice’ on documents which talk about options you have discussed. Be aware that a document you prepare during direct discussions, perhaps setting out agreed items is not legally binding and so it is possible one of you may change your mind, it is important that you take advice about formalising your agreement. 

Mediation

Mediators are trained professionals who are there to help facilitate discussions between you over a number of meetings. You will each typically have a meeting on your own first to discuss your suitability for the process, then a series of joint meetings as a three. The mediator remains impartial throughout the process, often giving separating couples the forum to decide on an agreement they are both comfortable with. You can attend mediation regarding financial matters and/or relating to arrangements for children. You will not be forced to agree to anything you are not comfortable with, giving you the opportunity to take some time after each session and to seek advice or make the agreement binding afterwards if you want to do so. 

Collaborative law

Specially trained family lawyers enter into an agreement with you and your former partner with regards to the collaborative process – this involves a commitment by you and your lawyers to find solutions which meet the best interests of the family as a whole with a commitment not to go to court. The process involves sitting together as a four and discussing the issues together around a table over a series of meetings. It is designed to be different to the traditional legal process and aims for you all to work together to come up with solutions for the whole family. It is particularly suitable for individuals who really want to ensure the needs of the other are prioritised and want to work together to navigate this difficult time in their lives. 

Independent social worker

If you are struggling to reach an agreement regarding arrangements for the children or there are specific problems that need working through, consider jointly asking for extra support. An independent social worker’s experience with both children and parents can help to alleviate concerns identified through mediation, therapeutic work, helping families through a period of adjustment or through the start of new care arrangements. 

Legal negotiations

As well as providing you with advice alongside the other above-mentioned options, a solicitor can help you negotiate a resolution through various different means including traditionally corresponding with your partner or their solicitor, by having discussions with your ex-partner’s solicitor or getting all individuals round the table for a meeting to narrow any issues. The court process is a last resort (due to the costs and damage caused to relationships, especially for co-parenting separating couples) but it remains available for difficult disputes that cannot be resolved through other methods.

Structured court proceedings also provide a timetable for resolving issues and providing finality. This can often be useful where one individual is not being open and honest about their finances or is perhaps withholding important information. A private dispute resolution hearing can also be organised alongside or instead of the traditional court process.

Arbitration

Another way of deciding what should happen with a separating couples with finances or children matters is arbitration – which, unlike mediation, usually results in a legally binding decision. The process is a flexible one, with an enforceable outcome decided by an independent third party called an arbitrator. The couple can choose the choice of arbitrator, the location of the arbitration, the issues to be decided upon and the steps they wish to take in the process and this option has been seen growth as the choice for couples. 

Formalising your agreement 

Once you have reached an agreement, particularly in relation to your finances, if this is agreed outside of court proceedings it is important that you seek advice to protect yourself in the future. An agreement will not be binding if it is not documented – so make sure you enter into a separation deed or financial order depending on your circumstances. There may be other areas that you had not thought of that your solicitor may flag e.g. the timing of separation and the impact from a tax perspective, or advice around the fairness of what you have come to agree. 

If you have any questions regarding your separation or the next steps then please do get in touch with our family team who would be very happy to discuss this with you: https://www.ashfords.co.uk/personal-legal-services/family

Megan Prideaux

This article was written by Megan Prideaux email hidden; JavaScript is required