Diary of a Divorce Lawyer: April 2021

6th April 2021 Family Law

Laura is a divorce consultant who has been working with one of my colleagues and fellow family solicitor, Michael Rowlands, for many years. As we unwrap our salmon sushi, Laura tells me she has just got a new puppy and might have to stop briefly if the puppy wakes up and needs to go out.

The door opens and Laura’s son passes her the puppy. Laura explains how she’s been sleeping on the sofa with the puppy for the last three days to settle him in. I am struck by her warmth and easy nature. It’s hardly surprising she has earned the title of ‘divorce doula’ amongst her clients.

We have arranged a lunchtime zoom meeting as Michael has said that we will get on well and have much in common, and very quickly it is obvious that he was right. We quickly establish our shared belief in psychology and the law working hand in hand in family law and that applying them in equal measure is essential to a successful outcome, whether it’s a divorce, a dispute about children or money.

As a divorce consultant, Laura, who trained as a barrister, sees herself as something between therapist and lawyer. Whether it’s accompanying her clients to meetings with a lawyer and other professionals such as accountants, or taking calls late at night from panicked and emotional clients, she offers a service that complements what I do as a family lawyer. “Divorce is very stressful, and having a buddy who is an experienced independent third party to assist you through the process can change the whole experience”, says Laura.

As a mum and divorcee like me, Laura has personal insight into high-conflict divorce and knows what a minefield it can be. Despite having a career as a criminal barrister before her divorce, Laura found the process and jargon confusing and at times frightening: “I had no idea how to assemble the right team of supporters and advisers around me at the time. I was given a couple of recommendations for lawyers and didn’t ask enough questions or even know what to ask. If I did it again, I would ensure that I had the right legal, therapeutic and support team around me.”

Few people know how to find a solicitor who is right for them. It often involves little more than a quick internet search or a referral from a friend, followed by a short meeting, and then a lawyer is retained. I often speak to clients who have started with one solicitor, then contacted me because they found that their original solicitor was not right for their case. For me, part of that process is imagining how and where people like Laura fit in.

Laura says: “When I meet a new client I am not thinking, ‘which law applies here?’ I am thinking ‘what’s my client like, which type of lawyer do they need and how are we going to work together?’ It’s a combination of instinct and experience.”

As a family lawyer, I find Laura’s approach refreshing and innovative. After a while Laura and I share our own experience of divorce. Being professionals in the industry gives you knowledge of the law but it is only when you have been through a family breakdown yourself that you truly appreciate the emotional, practical and financial toll it can take.

I ask Laura what she considers the essential ‘road map’ for those new clients who have just come to see her seeking guidance; often before they even meet with a solicitor for the first time:

  1. “Communicate with your ex using my FFFF approach – focused (be as brief as possible), factual (no emotive language and quote the facts), fair (be reasonable) and firm (be assertive and place boundaries but never aggressive).
  2. Pick your battles. Conserve energy and money for what really matters and will make a difference.
  3. Get organised. You will save on legal fees if you provide your lawyer with a detailed background and a full record of finances.

As lunch concludes, Laura tells me that the puppy needs taking out. We reflect on what a successful outcome actually means and agree that success cannot always be measured in monetary terms or who keeps the family dog. In the long term the knowledge that you did your best for your entire family and particularly the children (who will grow up and learn through the experience as well), is more important than the instant gratification of feeling that you have ‘won’.

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Tracey Rodford is a Partner located in Londonin our Family department

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