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Dispute Resolution Week - Alternatives to Court on divorce

If your mental image of divorce is of an angry couple facing each other across a courtroom Kramer v Kramer style, then you may be surprised to find that you are as out of date as Dustin Hoffman’s flares. Court, in 2014,is very much a last resort for couples deciding to go their separate ways, and this week marks the third annual Family Dispute Resolution week. Run by Resolution, an association of family lawyers, it is designed to raise awareness of the alternative ways separating and divorcing couples can resolve their differences.

Whilst divorce will always be painful, alternative methods of resolving the issues which may arise are designed to minimise the distress involved. The goal is that a former couple can learn how to have the sort of relationship that will allow them to make decisions going forward, for example, over their children’s interests and to attend family events without being at each other’s throats.

Here is an outline of the main alternative dispute resolution methods:

Collaborative law

First developed in the United States in the early 1990s this is a method where each party instructs his or her own collaboratively trained lawyer and a series of four-way meetings take place with the aim of resolving issues relating to finances and the children. The advantages of this method are that couples can go at their own pace and they make decisions together with the support of their own lawyer who is looking after their needs. There is an added incentive to make it work in that couples sign a binding agreement that if they cannot reach agreement collaboratively and take their case to Court they will start again with new solicitors.


The Government has been keen to channel separating couples into mediation in order to reduce pressure on the Court system. Mediation is generally less costly than other methods of dispute resolution and can be helpful to those with uncomplicated finances. A mediator is trained to facilitate agreement without giving advice, some mediators are trained lawyers but others are not. If agreement is reached the mediator will draw up a memorandum of understanding reflecting this which can then be turned into a binding Consent Order by a solicitor.


The newest form of dispute resolution arbitration has been available in the UK only since February 2012. Couples who agree to go to arbitration keep their divorce out of Court but still allow a third party (the arbitrator) to decide the outcome of a case. Couples can choose their own arbitrator, unlike in Court where there is no choice of judge. This is a particularly attractive option in high profile cases as arbitration is done behind closed doors and will not be reported in the media.

Solicitor negotiation

This is the traditional alternative to Court. Each party instructs a solicitor who will negotiate on their behalf by phone, email and letter. The aim is to reach a settlement, which is recorded in a Consent Order and sealed by the Court.

For more information please contact Belinda Hornsby Cox or Angharad Lynn