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Calls for ADR renewed as ‘Divorce Month’ begins

Family charity calls for greater take-up of out-of-court options for separating couples

3 January 2017

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National Family Mediation has called for greater use of alternative dispute resolution after warning that couples looking to separate in the so-called ‘Divorce Month’ will miss out on the help they need because they don’t know where to turn to.

Jane Robey, the charity’s CEO, said: ‘At a time of crisis, you need to know where you can turn for help. There will be many couples who’ve decided for sure in the last couple of weeks to separate, but they’ll need more information about their options as they look to make arrangements for parenting, property and finance.

‘Many will think they must head off to a solicitor to prepare for a very expensive and protracted court room confrontation in which they can achieve a “victory” over their ex. But there are alternative approaches that are quicker, much cheaper, and much less stressful.’

With January dubiously dubbed ‘Divorce Month’ in legal circles, family lawyers will be expecting to receive a raft of instructions, despite divorce rates falling to a 40-year low in 2014. However, with the fee for issuing a divorce petition rising and more LiPs clogging up the courts and causing ‘endemic delays’, can couples achieve a satisfactory conclusion out of the courtroom?

Some practitioners believe they could and want to see greater use of alternative dispute resolution – a stance Robey agrees with. The mediator has previously called for the government to address the ‘embarrassing’ low uptake of mediation and once again voiced her support for the process.

‘There is no need to leave it to a court to make vital life-changing decisions,’ said Robey. ‘You can instead choose to talk with a professional family mediator who will help you agree on the vital things that need to be sorted for the future. Family mediation is a much, much quicker process, allowing you to remain in control of all the decisions affecting your family’s future.’

To help divorcing couples, Seddons has recently introduced ‘Secure Separation’, a fixed fee arbitration service that provides divorcing and separating couples with ‘a quicker, cheaper, and more flexible way’ of resolving their financial disagreements out of court. The service offers a fixed fee from £10,000 plus VAT and provides a final, binding resolution to the financial issues.

‘Reaching a financial settlement can be harder for couples as when they disagree, they can find the courts are clogged, causing further distress and a crippling drain on their finances,’ said Toby Hales, a family partner at the West End firm who developed the new service.

‘Our new service aims to address these issues by providing a clearly priced service and faster resolution of their case through private arbitration, taking around four months from start to finish. We believe divorcing couples across the country will welcome the certainty, confidentiality, and speed that our new service provides.

Seddons’ new offering follows a survey of 2,500 UK adults commissioned by the firm in which 48 per cent of respondents showed a preference for using arbitration as an alternative to going to court to settle their finances. Nearly half (49 per cent) said a key benefit of private arbitration over going to court was knowing how much it would cost up front.

Alarmingly, the survey found that the cost of reaching a financial settlement on divorce has reached an average of £70,243 for UK couples, with the bulk of fees lost to shared assets such as a house, pension, or car.

The survey also found that couples nationwide had to wait around 11 months to finalise their divorce process including financial arrangements. Some 68 per cent of couples said they wanted a speedy resolution to their settlement and 67 per cent voiced concerns about the impact of delays on their finances.

Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal

matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @lex_progress

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