Value for Money and Divorce and Family Disputes
Traditionally the summer is a quiet time for family law lawyers. The autumn sees families working out how best to sort out difficulties. Difficult decisions need to be made. This piece is intended to help.
Although Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors only properly got going in March 2013, I have lived and worked in Devon for 14 years. I have been a specialist Family Law Solicitor for 21 years and a Family Mediator for 17 years. Among other things, I was the Chair of the Devon branch of Resolution for a successful 3 year term in office before standing down last year. I was elected to this role by Family Solicitors across Devon. If you have not heard of Resolution, you should visit their website at http://www.resolution.org.uk/about_us/ . As an organisation Resolution has in its 30 years transformed what is good practice and heavily promoted dispute resolution through Mediation and Collaborative Family Law.
Value for Money
In Family disputes this is a combination of;
- achieving a good outcome,
- in as short a period of time as possible and
- spending as little money as possible.
Family Law problems are problems which are resolved in the shadow of the Law. If there is no agreement a Judge will make decisions. Even if there is agreement, a Court Order may be needed to put it into effect (For example a Divorce or a “clean break” or pension order), and trying to avoid Solicitors completely is almost always a false economy. However choosing a Solicitor is not always easy. There are some longer pieces on my website on this subject, but generally the main things to consider are;
- What is their experience and how do they work? For example will they delegate all the work to someone junior in their team? Do they have too many cases to give you the time that you need? Are they a member of Resolution?
- Are they Outcome Focused? Or are they easily distracted into problems which will slow the case down and which will do little to affect the final outcome?
- What do they charge? Giving quotes is always difficult. The Legal Ombudsman published a report earlier in the year which said that he received far too many complaints from people whose Solicitor had quoted low in order to win the work and then way exceeded the quote. I would always advise anyone to concentrate on the hourly charging rate in combination with experience and attitude, rather than a hypothetical overall figure.
Value for money for also depends on the client. Generally, if you want to spend less, you need to understand what is a reasonable outcome or range of outcomes, and then get to the negotiation table as soon as possible. If negotiation fails, you need to get to a Court Hearing (with a realistic and well prepared case) as soon as possible. Too often I have seen people wasting money by avoiding getting on with things and getting stuck with long and pointless letters going back and forth in an expensive point scoring exercise.
A good Solicitor will steer their client through the best format to achieve a good and realistic outcome, whether that is Family Mediation, Collaborative Family Law, Solicitor led negotiation or Court Application. The skill lies in finding the right and best process for the client and their family and helping them to make the most of it.
It is also true to say that there are good and experienced Solicitors in the towns of East Devon, and there should be no need to travel into Exeter for Family Law or Mediation. There tends to be a higher turnover of staff in larger practices as well as a greater use of unqualified caseworkers. Local is often more personal and the Solicitors will know each other, which can also smooth the case along.
I am a family Mediator as well as a Solicitor. We are the only Mediation service based in East Devon which has a contract with the Legal Aid Agency. It is correct to say that mediation (for the right people), is often the cheapest and best (but by no means always) way of resolving family disputes. It is important that it is supported by Legal Advice. When I am mediating, I cannot advise, but I can assist clients to get advice about the things they need to, when they need to, so that they can make informed decisions together. As a mediator, I meet with both parties separately before setting mediation up. I carry out a risk assessment and check that mediation is suitable.
Many think that Legal Aid has been completely abolished, but this is not true. Legal Aid is still available for Legal Advice to assist people to protect themselves and their children. It is available if Social Services become involved with a family. If there is a documented safety issue it is also still available for divorce and finance and children disputes.
The rules are very complicated! There is a useful questionnaire at https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid, but I am always happy to take a phone call, and I will be able to give you an idea fairly quickly.
Where there is not a documented safety issue, then families’ can get Legal Aid for family mediation. Once the mediation has started, there is also a type of legal aid that will enable those eligible to get legal advice in support of the mediation and to sort out Legal formalities after. (But it will not cover the divorce itself).
Where safety is not an issue, mediation is often a good idea anyway. I am able to mediate from here in Honiton, Exeter, Taunton and Cullompton.
Where problems are left unresolved, they can often get worse and or more difficult to resolve. Disputes between parents can also have a very negative impact upon children. It is important for them that their parents find a way forward. I offer an initial free 30 minute meeting to discuss options with potential clients. Within that time I can assess eligibility for Legal Aid. After the 30 minutes the client can go home for a think, or we can proceed with initial Legal Advice or try to set up mediation.