Navigating divorce or separation can be extremely daunting. It is unsurprising that making decisions about the family’s future can sometimes feel impossible, especially when emotions are running high. Often there are difficult discussions about the children and disputes about complex financial matters, including family-run businesses and inherited land.

Many people will be aware that one way to resolve disputes of this nature is through the family courts. However, most family law specialists will tell you that court proceedings are timely, costly and involve a judge or magistrates making decisions about your future. For these reasons, the court system is often viewed as a last resort.

Help is, however, at hand, and learning about alternative dispute resolution, or “ADR”, is a good place to start your journey towards resolving the issues. ADR is the name given to various ways of resolving disputes other than taking the matter to court and includes:

  • Mediation – you and your spouse/partner will meet with a mediator to try to reach a solution. The mediator is impartial and will help you both to reach an agreement. Though the mediator will not give specific legal advice, they will explain the legal framework to help you understand how matters might be dealt with by the court.
  • Collaborative – you and respective lawyers work together around a table to resolve disputes. The aim is to achieve a fair resolution for the family unit and solicitors will work in a non-positional and non-confrontational way.
  • Arbitration – your matter will be referred to a skilled, trained arbitrator who will hear both sides of the matters in dispute. The arbitrator will issue a decision that is legally binding on you both and there are usually solicitors who present the respective cases at the arbitration hearings. The arbitrators can generally hear cases more quickly than a court is able to resolve disputes.
  • Early neutral evaluation – an evaluator (often a solicitor, barrister or retired judge) will be appointed to give an independent and expert opinion on the merits of a case. The evaluation is not binding, but it can be useful in narrowing or resolving issues.
  • Resolution together – this allows one lawyer to work with and advise couples jointly. This is a new way of working which reflects significant changes in the law, given joint applications to end a marriage can now be made by separating couples under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act.

ADR is a great way of helping couples take control, make decisions together and build a positive future for the family. Speaking to a solicitor at the early stages of your separation will help you understand the best ADR option(s) for you and the family depending on the specific circumstances. At Brachers, our empathetic family lawyers offer a range of alternative dispute resolution methods, working closely with clients to identify the best way forward.

Sophie Read is a family law partner at Brachers and is collaboratively trained.