LAST week was National Family DR Week. What does that mean? Well, it’s a week where professionals involved in the family justice system focus on different methods of ‘dispute resolution’, aside from the traditional method of taking things through the courts.

In family breakdown, especially where there are children involved, it is important to try to avoid ongoing conflict, and find less acrimonious, cheaper, quicker ways of dealing with the issues which can arise for divorcing or separating parents.

Family mediation: This is where both parties attend sessions with a mediator or sometimes two co-mediators. The ideal is for both to be in the same room with the mediator, to explore their own solutions. The mediator is neutral and trained to help resolve disputes over all issues facing divorcing or separating couples, or parents needing to resolve arrangements to do with their children.

The mediator will meet with both and identify the issues which are not agreed upon and try to help the parties reach agreement. It is possible for mediation to take place where the parties do not meet, and that is known as ‘shuttle mediation’.

Once proposals have been reached which are acceptable to both parties, the mediator will draft a ‘memorandum of understanding’ which can be passed on to solicitors to draft into legally binding documents in the case of financial arrangements – court consent orders or separation agreements or deeds – or parenting agreements for child arrangements.

Collaborative lawyers: This is where each party instructs their own specially qualified collaborative lawyer, who is then able to help and support them through the process to a solution. There is an agreement at the outset that neither is allowed to go to court, with those lawyers, so that if the process breaks down, each has to instruct fresh solicitors. The idea is that there is no correspondence between lawyers, and that all negotiations take place in face to face meetings with the parties and the lawyers being present.

Arbitration: There is a growing use of arbitrators in family disputes. They have been used in the commercial world for a long time, for things as varied as neighbour disputes, commercial rent reviews, and so on.

The idea is that if parties cannot reach agreement, rather than use the courts, and be bound by timetables that are imposed by statute for financial issues (given the resource pressures that the court system is now under), that instead, each party agrees the identity of an arbitrator who will hear their arguments and make a decision. Parties can decide their own timescales for arbitration, rather than be subject to the court listing system, and they can pick their own arbitrator.

Children first: Resolution, the national family lawyers group, have launched this year’s DR week to highlight the different ways of resolving disputes, with the strapline ‘Children first’. That is really to highlight the importance of separating parents trying to consider their children’s needs when seeking solutions to the issues which arise upon separation. They have highlighted a number of quotes from children including this one, which I think says it all.

“Please don’t argue in front of your children. Don’t say bad things about each other. Listen to your children. Make them feel loved. Give them the choice of visiting their other parents but don’t put pressure on them. Talk to them and always tell them it’s not their fault.”

If you are separating and need advice, I would suggest contacting a Resolution solicitor, or looking at their website.