Would you like to find a way to work together to resolve the many aspects arising during your separation for both of you, including your children and your financial arrangements?
Even if this sounds like it may be too much of a challenge given the emotions and stress which often arise during a separation, it is worth considering the long-term benefits of reaching mutually agreed financial outcomes and child arrangements. This article sets out some ways in which you could do this and the related benefits of doing so.
The Court process used to be a very common way to do this or written correspondence between solicitors. There is now a broad range of practical and supportive options to help you resolve matters more quickly and jointly (although in some cases it may still be necessary to use the Court, if there is an urgent situation or where domestic abuse has occurred).
It is now possible to work out your financial and child arrangements by working together with a family lawyer or mediator together with a family consultant in a supportive and professional environment; which is non-judgmental and enables you both remain on good terms in the future, particularly where you have children so that the impact on them of your separation is reduced.
Many family lawyers and family consultants are members of Resolution which requires its members to adopt a code of conduct which includes obligations to:
- Reduce or manage any conflict and confrontation; for example, by not using inflammatory language.
- Support and encourage families to put the best interests of any children first.
- Act with honesty, integrity and objectivity.
- Help clients understand and manage the potential long-term financial and emotional consequences of decisions.
- Listen to and treat everyone with respect and without judgment.
What is a family consultant?
There are other articles on this website giving more detailed information about the role of a family consultant. Family consultants:
- Are trained to work with couples who are going throughthe process of separation and divorce.
- Work alongside the family lawyer/mediator to provide a safe and confidential space to explore future arrangements practically and emotionally.
- Can be introduced at any stage in various legal processes – including mediation, Agreeable and collaborative.
- Are therapeutically rather than legally trained. As a family consultant their role is not to provide therapy. They are there to support you both with emotional and communication issues. These can cause a barrier to resolving what you want to work out together. This can help when you both think very strongly and differently about something and can help you focus on working out common ground rather than leaving you ‘stuck’ so that you cannot move on.
What is Agreeable (one lawyer/one couple)?
Family Law Partners introduced the Agreeable way of working jointly with separating couples to enable them to work together to find the best possible child and financial arrangements and long-term solutions for their families, for the future. This way of working can be described as ‘one lawyer, one couple’ or ‘solicitor neutral’ and it is becoming increasingly popular as it is a way to work practically through a series of meetings within a time frame and structure tailored to your family’s needs.
Agreeable is an interdisciplinary process compared to a more traditional legal process. It involves a family consultant working alongside a family lawyer who is also trained as a mediator.
The family consultant is usually the first person you will meet to find out whether Agreeable is suitable for you. The family consultant will spend time with each of you to find out your priorities and to explain how Agreeable works and to decide with both of you whether Agreeable is a suitable way of working for you both. If you wish to go ahead, the family consultant will introduce you to one of our mediation trained lawyers at a joint meeting where you can ask any questions of the lawyer and family consultant together before you decide whether to use Agreeable or another family law process.
What does a family consultant do within the Agreeable model?
Agreeable works well for most people because clients have the benefit of the added support provided by a family consultant throughout the process as well as the option to speak to the family consultant individually or together between the sessions with their Agreeable lawyer. This can be a more well-rounded way of resolving emotional and challenging situations where there are not always clearcut legal solutions. These are just a few of the possible worries that a family consultant can support you with:
- How can we afford our living expenses for two homes? – the family consultant at Family Law Partners is also a financial coach and can provide support in looking at budgets and spending plans with each of you between meeting with your Agreeable lawyer. This can help you feel that you have a clear understanding of your income needs for each of you and for your children when you will be living separately.
- How will we tell the children about our separation? – the family consultant with the Agreeable lawyer will listen to any worries you may both have about the impact of the changes coming up for the children – and if you have not already told the children of your plans, help you work out the best time and way to tell the children in an age-appropriate way so that when you do so, you will have a joint approach to this rather than it being unplanned and the children will be reassured that you are dealing with things together.
- We are having difficulty communicating well whilst we are all still living together – what can we do? – the family consultant can meet with you individually and jointly to find out why you may be having any communication blocks and to help you ease and overcome those.
If you do not think Agreeable would be suitable for you, but you would like the support of a family consultant alongside another family law process (mediation, lawyer negotiation, collaborative process or even if you are involved in a court process and need support between hearings to help work out your priorities) this is still possible. Please see below some frequently asked questions and responses about working with a family consultant.
Do all divorcing/separating couples need a family consultant?
- If you wish to work using Agreeable, the family consultant is an integral part of this process. In other processes such as mediation or collaborative it is your choice as to whether to include a family consultant. It is often hard to navigate the next steps for couples facing divorce/separation. Family consultants can be beneficial in the early stages of divorce/separation and can also help you anticipate your post-separation life. Family consultants can play a key role in all family law processes – from working with your lawyer/mediator in managing dynamics to helping you to identify and overcome any obstacles.
Do family consultants offer long-term guidance/support?
- Family consultants can provide support throughout the whole process. The number of meetings you may have with the family consultant will be tailored to your specific needs. In some cases, clients return to the family consultant once their legal process has completed for follow-up support with parenting issues.
- Family consultants can provide you with recommendations to other professionals for more specific advice/counselling should you need it.
What if there are children involved?
- Communication – Where children are involved, having the conversation about separation/divorce can be daunting. Family consultants can provide a range of support and advice about how to communicate and reassure children about this in an age-appropriate and positive way.
- Co-parenting – The presence of a family consultant helps parents to build and manage healthy co-parenting relationships, which are in the best interests of the children. A family consultant can assist in creating a workable parenting plan, with the understanding that changes may need to be made over time.
- New partners – the introduction of a new partner can be a sensitive issue in some cases and a family consultant can help you to have open conversations to ensure that the introduction of a new partner is done in a thoughtful way that minimises emotional stress to the child(ren).
Will it increase my costs?
- For Agreeable, we work out a fixed fee for the work you wish us to carry out with you both after the initial introductory meetings with the family consultant and the lawyer and send that to you for consideration. This will include the costs of both the lawyer and the family consultant and will be tailored to your particular requirements. In other processes (mediation, collaborative) the family consultant’s charges are an additional cost. Although using a family consultant can help to reduce overall legal costs as you are likely to be able to reduce the number of meetings required due to the early preparation and support throughout, so that you can focus with your lawyer on legal issues having already talked through with the family consultant any emotional issues which could prevent you focussing fully on what needs to be resolved; and also to make sure you feel ready to start the legal process.
Overall benefits to clients of having this added support:
- Reducing conflict – Improving communication/emotional preparation and support through a time of transition and creating a better post-separation/co-parenting relationship.
- Supporting parents to make mutually acceptable decisions – Assisting with parenting plan/arrangements – research shows that children will feel more secure if they know that their parents are working together to resolve things.
- Proportionate costs – Reducing legal costs and number of meetings by providing emotional support from the outset so that clients can then be more able to focus on legal and financial issues with their lawyer and financial advisors.
- Continuity – Ensuring consistency for you within and between the meetings with your lawyers so that you feel held within a supportive process; and know that you are on a pathway to concluding matters to be able to move on with your future lives, remaining on good terms.
If you would like to know more about Agreeable to see if this is the right approach for you or if you would like to work with a family consultant in any of the family law processes, such as mediation, lawyer negotiation or the collaborative process, please contact us to discuss your individual circumstances.