Diary of a Divorce Lawyer: June 2021

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Diary of a Divorce Lawyer: June 2021

Miriam and I meet at the teahouse at Petersham Nurseries. An in-person lunch is the highlight of my week, if not the year!

Miriam Klinke is a family mediator. She supports couples wishing to resolve disputes in a conciliatory manner, including finances and children, usually after the breakdown of a marriage or relationship. Like me, Miriam is a local and has a legal background, having started her career as a prosecutor and Judge in Germany, before moving to England with her family. She contacted me last year, having read my diary. Since then we have had a number of mutual clients.

Not all cases are suitable for mediation, for example if there are issues of domestic violence or financial abuse, but I always encourage couples to explore the possibility of mediation before they commence litigation.

It is one of the windiest days of the year and although the sun is shining, it’s cold. Our lattes arrive and I ask Miriam about what she feels leads to a successful mediation outcome.

“Sometimes people just need to be heard. Emotions are running high after the breakdown of a relationship and it is natural for people to feel uncertain and frightened about the future. I help them think about what that future might look like in a positive way, what changes they may have to make and what they will need. Where there are children, I try and encourage them to think about how their children will reflect on the breakdown of their parents’ relationship in years to come”.

I agree with her approach. Family breakdown is a stressful time and it’s rarely easy, particularly if children are involved. The way in which couples deal with the resolution of finances and contact arrangements for children leaves a lasting legacy. It doesn’t have to be a battle.

I ask Miriam how she structures the mediation meetings and what she needs from her couples. “The initial meeting is an information-gathering exercise. Usually I meet each person individually to assess their suitability for mediation. I ask them to fill out standard forms that provide me with critical information about their circumstances, then if appropriate I meet the couple together”. Since March last year, most of her meetings have been virtual, but like me, Miriam sees value in connecting and meeting people face to face if possible.

“I work with the couple to understand what the key issues are. There may be a range of areas of dispute or they may have reached agreement on everything except one critical point, for example whether the family home should be sold or whether a child should remain at a particular school. I try to help them narrow the issues or talk through the problem.”

“Many couples arrive having little idea how to divide finances or plan for an independent future. It can be quite overwhelming. I support them to think about how they will operate their lives once they are separated. This might include discussing their needs and those of any children, whether they have an income potential if they have not worked for a while and what they want. Sometimes couples need a reality check. I can address this in a non-confrontational way and manage expectations for their future, without being critical or judgmental.”

It starts to rain and Miriam and I move to a table under the tarpaulin. “Once my couples have considered their options and where we have reached a deal, I draft this into a memorandum of understanding. I always advise couples to seek independent legal advice on any agreement they have reached. I am not a lawyer and do not give legal advice”.

Where parties have already started the divorce process, this is the point where a client often returns to me, having successfully agreed a settlement and seeking my advice on whether it is fair. Once I have advised, we draft the agreement into a binding consent order, together with a short document detailing finances. On pronouncement of decree nisi, the documents are filed at court for a Judge’s consideration. Unless the Judge has any questions or concerns, it will be sealed by the court.

Miriam and I finish our lunch and agree to catch up again soon. Later that day, a lady contacts me who wants to know my view on mediation. I talk through her situation and believe that mediation could be a sensible and cost effective option for her. I send her some details of local mediators including Miriam. Mediation is not appropriate in every case. However, where it is, the emotional and financial savings are, in my view, immeasurable.

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