When a relationship breaks down some people are concerned that involvement from lawyers might escalate a dispute and lead them to court. In many cases this is not true as there are a variety of options available in order to resolve matters as an alternative to court.
There has been a great deal in the media about mediation and the government would like to encourage people going through a divorce to use that process in order to resolve any issues. Whilst mediation can be effective in many instances, it is not suitable for everybody and there may be many reasons why it would not work for some people. Many people want the support of a lawyer when dealing with these matters.
Your solicitor will usually try and negotiate a settlement on your behalf if you are unable to reach a direct agreement. This may be through correspondence, or you may instruct your solicitor to attend meetings where negotiations take place. These meetings may be within the collaborative law process or they may simply be round table meetings where everything can be discussed.
If negotiations, in whatever form they take, do not result in a settlement there are still plenty of options available, which can keep your divorce out of court:
Early Neutral Evaluations
Where there is something preventing you from reaching a settlement with your spouse, you may benefit greatly from an early neutral evaluation. This is where you jointly instruct (via your solicitors) an experienced lawyer to give you a joint and neutral evaluation as to what would be likely to happen should your case go to court. This can assist in your decision making and help to remove barriers to reaching a settlement. Early neutral evaluations can be done face to face or in writing.
This is effectively using a tribunal to resolve your dispute, without going to court. You and your spouse would need to pay for your arbitrator, who will be an experienced lawyer, but the benefits in respect of speed and efficiency often mean that the process is much cheaper than going through the court process. Rather than being a standard procedure like in the court process, arbitration can be tailored to your own needs and the issues can be limited by agreement. The Award given by the arbitrator is binding and a final decision will be made on the issue you ask the arbitrator to determine. Again, arbitration can take place face to face or in writing.
Private Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (Private FDR)
This mirrors one of the stages in the court process and is similar to Early Neutral Evaluations. An FDR within the court process is a hearing where a judge predicts what would happen if the matter were to proceed to a final hearing. It is usually the second hearing within the court process. It is possible to do this privately, outside of the court process. You would pay for the lawyer acting as the private judge but the private hearing could be arranged far more quickly than waiting for a court listing and can be held at a place and time of your convenience. These private hearings would be carried out face to face.