Court is not an easy option. If you can find an alternative way of sorting things out, you should do so. This is called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) also called Dispute Resolution (DR) or Non-court based Dispute Resolution (NCDR). Finding resolution can be likened to a ladder, where the first rung of the ladder is sitting down over a cup of tea with your ex to draw up a parenting plan. If that is not possible, then the second rung of the ladder could be couple counselling or mediation. The next rung of the ladder is arbitration, collaborative law or private FDRs. The top rung of the ladder is going to court.
More information about each form of ADR is set out below. Many forms of ADR, including mediation, can be tried even if a court case has already started.
It might seem an odd thing to include but couple counselling (often called marriage guidance) can help you work together as you end your relationship. See Relate for more info.
Mediation can help you reach an agreement about disputed issues arising from your separation (e.g. children, finances, communication). Mediation is voluntary. Mediators are impartial, do not advise you, and do not impose a decision upon you. Mediation is voluntary. If you are on a low income, or if your ex is on a low income you are both likely to qualify for free mediation through legal aid. Mediation often works best if you have some legal advice alongside it. See FMC for more info.
Arbitration is voluntary, but once you have agreed to go to arbitration an arbitrator will make a binding decision instead of a judge. The decision can be enforced in court. Currently only available for financial disputes but may in due course be available for disputes about children. Most often used where there are significant assets or a particular need for privacy. See IFLA for more info.
Both parties instruct lawyers trained as Collaborative Lawyers who work together in an attempt to achieve a resolution and are less restricted in their dealings with the other lawyer than would normally be the case. If an agreement can’t be reached the Collaborative Lawyers drop out and the parties have to instruct fresh lawyers for any court case that follows.
Family Group Conference
Often used where there are child protection concerns or where a family unit has a particular need for ongoing support (perhaps because a member of the family has a disability). See the videos by the Family Rights Group here.
Parties and their lawyers agree to set aside a day to come together and attempt to negotiate a settlement in an attempt to avoid court. Most often used where there are significant assets or a particular need for privacy.
Parties pay an experienced lawyer, retired or part time judge to carry out a “Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing” for them with the aim of reaching a settlement about finances. A FDR is a hearing where a judge hears a summary of the parties positions and gives guidance to them about what outcomes are likely or sensible. Most often used where there are significant assets or a particular need for privacy.