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The first meeting with a family lawyer

Debbie-ChismDebbie Chism explains what happens when someone comes to see her for the first time.

When people come into my office for the first time, whether or not they have instigated the family change they are now seeking to make arrangements for, they tend to feel that the world around them is spinning out of control. Often, the elements of a carefully ordered day-to-day existence have been thrown into total confusion. It can be difficult to know where to start and there is anxiety about what the outcome might be.

The first thing that I do, as a family law solicitor, is to listen. It’s essential for me to understand what is important to them and what their unique concerns are so that I can help him or her in the most effective way. I need to start developing the essential trust between us so that we can have a close, constructive working relationship for as long as it takes to make the necessary arrangements for the future.

The next thing I tend to do is to set out the various options for how we can move forward to get things sorted out. In some cases, the only sensible option is to go to court straight away, for example if it is necessary to get the court’s protection for adults or children who might be harmed, or property that might be disposed of. However, in most cases, court is neither the only option nor the one most likely to yield quick, tolerable and cost-effective results. Collaborative law, or mediation, can provide other routes to lasting arrangements that work better in the interests of the family as a whole.

When you come face to face with divorce, and control seems to have slipped from your grasp, collaborative law is a process that puts your own goals and aspirations at the heart of the discussion. It gives you that control back, and facilitates your working as a team with your collaborative lawyer, your spouse or partner, and their collaborative lawyer as a team. The aim is to get to a solution that works as far as possible for everyone involved, focussing on the matters that the clients themselves feel are their priorities which may be a very different proposition to the issues central to the strict parameters of the court process. Where there are children involved, through discussion and negotiation it is often possible to achieve practical outcomes that ensure their interests are safeguarded and that they feel secure and reassured, while working to establish a new relationship as constructive co-parents.

It’s so important, at the start of the divorce process, that each individual makes an informed choice about what they want to achieve, and how to get there. What happens in the early stages is incredibly significant in setting the tone and course of what happens during the process itself. The more information you have, the better able you are to decide the right road for you. More and more clients come to me asking about collaborative law. Although it is not appropriate in every case, where it works it can give people back that feeling of control that may have been lost at the start of the journey, and I thoroughly recommend that anyone feeling ‘at sea’ and not wishing to be compelled to take decisions dictated by the court process should consider the collaborative process as an alternative to the traditional way of working through divorce arrangements.