I arrived in the office early on Friday morning. The main topic of conversation over the morning coffee was the dramatic decision of the referendum.
I took a new client enquiry call from a Mr Jean Claude (name changed for client confidentiality). He was angry and upset. He explained that, overnight, his wife, Britannia, after being married for over forty years, had announced that she was leaving him. It appears that she had been considering the separation for a while, they had squabbled, but Jean had not been expecting her ultimately to go through with it.
He said that he did not see this as being an “amicable divorce” and that he wanted me to take immediate action “however painful the process will be”. He wanted to see me that day and to start the process of divorce. It appears that his wife had already seen a solicitor as she had told him that she needed to issue an “Article 50” divorce, which would involve a two-year process arguing over all aspects of the divorce: how quickly would Britannia’s weekly maintenance to Jean come to an end; how would they continue their trading business; and, deal with the children’s feelings, notwithstanding the divorce?
I arranged to see Jean. He was showing the first stages of emotion commonly seen at the beginning of a separation – denial and then anger (according to Resolution, my family law association, www.Resolution.org.uk). It was clear from what Jean told me that, although Britannia was ahead of him in coming to grips with the process, she was also suffering initial doubts and confusion as the reality and permanence of the situation became clear. I reminded him that agencies, including Relate, could help to explore whether there was a possibility of reconciliation, especially after such a long marriage. Jean replied (sharply) that there was no possibility of them getting back together.
I tried to explain to Jean that his feelings of anger were absolutely normal and that his wish to get back at Britannia was understandable. He might have second thoughts, feel very upset but ultimately, although it might seem out of the question now, he and Britannia would at some stage come to accept the situation so as to have a working relationship going forward.
I told Jean that help was available for him to cope with the emotional distress he was clearly going through. He could see a family consultant for help to face the emotional turmoil of the separation.
I went through the court process with Jean – he and Britannia would be involved in a long process having to follow strict procedures and timetables. They would likely say things about the other which they may later regret. In a divorce, there is no winner and loser. At the end of the day, a court could impose a settlement on them, which neither of them would find acceptable. The lawyers’ costs would be also be high.
Jean acknowledged that, whilst he wanted to show that he was tough and that he was very angry about Britannia’s decision, he did see that, at the end of the process, they would still have to keep their business relationship going and be on speaking terms. They would still be living near each other.
I explained that there were other options available to both Jean and Britannia. These would give them both a full say in the outcome and they would be able to tailor their financial settlement to their needs.
They could go to a mediator who would act as an independent and neutral help to them. The mediator is specialised in helping them discuss issues in a safe, open and honest way, usually sitting in a room together, narrowing down the issues and trying to come to a solution that would be acceptable to both of them (and other people who would be affected by their separation). These meetings would take place in private, away from the courts, and over a period of time to suit them. They could both then have the settlement reviewed by their lawyers and present it to the court as a formal agreement.
Alternatively, if they preferred to have their lawyers with them at the meetings, they could both appoint specialist collaborative lawyers. Jean, Britannia and their lawyers would opt out of the court process and, similar to mediation, commit to finding a fair settlement with which both Jean and Britannia felt comfortable. The settlement terms would then be turned into a formal court order, covering all of the (inevitably complex) aspects of the separation.
I explained that they were both likely to end up talking to each other if they chose mediation or the collaborative process and would also be able to preserve their business relationship and carry on their role as parents. All of the intricate and detailed aspects of the separation could be dealt with. The lawyer’s costs were likely to be a fraction of what it would cost them both to go to court.
While there was a natural and understandable temptation to step straight into court, I asked Jean to take time to reflect on how he wanted to go ahead and to allow them both an opportunity to take in what has happened. I offered to have an initial call with Britannia’s lawyer to discuss matters. Although court can be the only solution in some cases, perhaps mediation or the collaborative process is the way to go for Jean and Britannia?
As imagined by Julian Waldon, mediator and collaborative lawyer