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Family Law: Mediation v. Court

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Some time ago on Twitter I became engaged with a Follower on the subject of the role of mediation in Family Law Cases.  Interesting exchanges but it became clear that my views were opposite to my friends. I hold the view that a Court is the correct Forum while he felt that Mediation was the way to go. Then along came an English Solicitor who stated that over 90% of his cases had been disposed of through mediation and that he felt it was in his clients best interests as it was what the client wanted. I proffered the view that it was the role, in fact the duty of the Solicitor to advise his/her client of the way forward to resolving their case not let the client decide what they thought was best. It was my duty, under law, to advise the client on all options open to them, including Mediation, but ultimately, after taking full and detailed instructions, to advise the client what I though was best for them in their particular case. It was then up to the client to decide whether to follow my advice or go elsewhere and instruct someone who they felt was best suited for them. The argument made by my English colleague was that Mediation was the best option because it was cheaper. I felt that sometimes the cheaper option could be the most expensive one in the long run. Cost is indeed a factor but in my opinion not the deciding factor. Some people feel that a lawyer is not needed at all. That they can do a better job without a money leaching lawyer. This is not a view I take as Law Without a Lawyer is never, in my experience, a good idea.

Some Years back I attended a Family Law Seminar and one of the speakers was a lady who, if on the opposing side, necessitated on every occasion running the matter into Court. She was, to put it mildly, difficult. It was never easy to settle a case with her. She always took the view, without exception, that her opposite number was one to be fought with to the nth. degree and never, in my view, wished to enter into talks to settle even the most minor matter. So, you can imagine my interest in her lecture on Mediation. She painted the picture of a ‘Happy Divorce’. One where flowers were arranged in the room to create the right atmosphere. After the lecture finished I was still unconvinced and remain so to this day. Maybe it was because it was her giving the lecture. Maybe that’s unfair but I found her talk somewhat unconvincing and I thought insincere.

My views are summarised in the following which appears on my website… ”Remember your wedding? The preparation, the big day, and the cost? Well prepare yourself for the same trauma except this time it is not a happy occasion. Nevertheless with sensitive handling and the proper legal team behind you, you can be assured of a satisfactory outcome. Negotiation and mediation often facilitate resolution, however, we will pursue litigation to protect our clients best interests. Don’t be bullied or face this trauma alone. You owe it to yourself and your family to do it right.”

I know this is a contentious issue and one where people have formed their opinions based on their own experiences. Needless to say if you have had a bad experience with a lawyer of course this will colour your view and this is quite valid. Family Law should only be practised by lawyers who have expertise in that area. No matter how sympathetic you may be to your client it is not in their best interests for you to handle their family law case if you do not have the expertise so clearly needed. The lawyer must also have people skills as this is a traumatic experience for anyone to have to endure. In a perfect world I have no doubt that mediation is the ideal scenario but unfortunately we have to deal with a great amount of hurt and devastation. In such circumstances a great deal of time is needed to take the correct and detailed instructions from the client before you are in a position to outline what course of action you feel is necessary to achieve a satisfactory outcome for your client. Remember that you are dealing with someone’s life and indeed in most cases,the lives of children.

The family law practitioner has a heavy burden resting on them. Sometimes it can be a traumatic experience for them also. I recall a case many years ago when, with my opposite number, we disposed with most issues in the case, bar the custody of the children of the marriage. It is not what you think. Neither in fact wanted them ! They had no problem sorting out the house, in fact houses and cars, including the treasured BMW. I had to listen to quite a lot of nonsense that day but when they both argued that the children would be better off with the other, I became quite enlightened as to both of their lifestyles. Sometimes it amazes me what people’s priorities actually are !

LegalEagleStar  Wednesday, 27th. April, 2011

Written by LegalEagleStar

April 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm

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