AUTUMN is upon us, and the children have returned to school. Often a busy time for family lawyers.

Television schedules are changing and new drama serials have started, amongst them Dr Foster. It tells the story of a wronged wife, and the second series appears to be concentrating on how the (now) ex-wife has still not ‘moved on’, but also how the ex-husband has returned to the small town with his new wife and baby in tow, intent on destroying his ex-wife, her reputation, friends and, most appallingly, her relationship with their teenage son. Definitely a tale of how not to divorce and separate!

As a matrimonial solicitor and family mediator, over the years I have seen many many hurt, traumatised, angry and broken clients. It’s still painful as a professional to see it, and try to find a way of helping these clients through the process, and help them repair enough to move on. I will be honest, we don’t always manage it. We might help to achieve what the law would see as a ‘fair’ settlement, but very often the client won’t see the outcome as fair, and very often neither party will be happy with the outcome.

As a mediator, it’s sometimes even more the case that I see how hurt both sides are. One of the skills I’ve developed over the years, like most (if not all) mediators, is trying to help a couple in mediation find common ground – often their children – and help them find a way of addressing their hurt in the mediation process to try to start to move forward. It’s not always possible. Sometimes in those instances, mediation just won’t be appropriate. It’s very often the case that one party has been thinking about separating for some time, but for the other person, it has come as a shock. They are just in different places to each other emotionally, and mediation or the legal process is not happening at the right time. Those cases are really tricky. Sometimes, it’s possible to deal with the urgent issues with the couple such as housing and paying bills, and maybe ‘park’ the longer term issues such as dividing assets and so on until both are more emotionally ready to deal with them.

It’s sometimes also possible to suggest counselling or therapy. Most mediators and matrimonial solicitors are able to make suggestions for all sorts of third parties such as counsellors, independent financial advisors, life coaches, and so on, to try to help with the process.

As a member of Resolution, the family lawyers’ association, I truly believe that it’s my job as a solicitor or mediator to try to help my client or the couples I am mediating with to find a constructive way forward. Wherever possible, I try to help them focus on the important things in their lives, particularly the children, and try and move on from their angry feelings about the split itself.

The Fosters are certainly two very damaged individuals. It is a drama, and thankfully we very rarely come across anything quite like it. But it does remind me that I and my colleagues are dealing with a client or a couple, who come from a family and a community, and that what drives the mediation or legal process, is not just influenced by the wife or the husband that we are dealing with, but also their parents, in laws, colleagues, lovers, children and friends.

Could I have helped the Fosters? I doubt it. But I would have given it a good try, for the sake of their son, and also the sake if his new half sister.

Ruth Hawkins is a partner at Oxford legal firm TURPIN & MILLER