approach

advising

Each case will start with a meeting which will be between one and two hours in length. During that meeting we will gather information about your situation to ensure we have the necessary understanding to give properly informed advice.

Family law is very discretionary and so often there will be no right answer to your particular situation. Once we have as much information as possible, we will be able to give you advice, first generally on the law and how it might apply to your situation, and then on what sort of outcome you might expect. We will then look at what the right approach is for you to achieve that outcome.

Most cases do not go to court. At Burgess Mee we are focused on trying to resolve matters with the minimum cost and emotional expense. The processes that we look at for you are set out below and generally these options start with the least expensive and move through to the most expensive and acrimonious which will be litigation.

mediation

Financial and children matters are dealt with separately to the divorce process. The court encourages everyone to attempt mediation before making a court application.

Mediation involves both parties meeting with an independent third party, the mediator. The mediator does not advise the parties. Instead, the mediator provides information, empowering both parties to reach a compromise. A couple will usually have between three and five mediation sessions by which time they will know if they are going to be able to reach an agreement. In between mediation sessions they can take advice from their independent solicitors.

Settlement discussions in mediation are “without prejudice” (they cannot be referred to in court proceedings) so the parties have the freedom to make compromises and proposals without losing their negotiating position. Specific details about the level of assets are disclosable outside the mediation process. Once they have reached an agreement in mediation, the parties are able to take advice on it from their solicitors and there may be more negotiation.

If a full agreement is reached then that agreement becomes “open” and is binding. A consent order can be drafted containing the agreement and sent to the court. If the judge checking the order considers that it is fair then it will be finalised by the court and is a binding court order which can then be enforced.

negotiation

Sometimes mediation is not appropriate, for example, where one party feels that the other party might bully or intimidate him or her without the support of a legal representative.

In that case, negotiations about financial and children matters can be carried out through solicitors. The parties’ solicitors put forward and respond to proposals in written correspondence or at a round table meeting.

At a round table meeting, parties usually attend a meeting at one of their solicitor’s offices although a neutral venue may also be agreed. Their solicitors will negotiate on their behalf face to face with the other solicitor. The parties can sit in the same room during the negotiations or they can remain in separate rooms. Again, if an agreement can be reached, the provisions can be put into a consent order and sent to the court for approval by a judge.

collaborative law

Another method of reaching an agreement is through collaborative law.

Here, each party will be represented by an independent specially-trained lawyer. The parties will usually sign an agreement at the outset confirming that they cannot use their collaborative solicitors to go to court if the negotiations break down. This means there is a heavy incentive on the parties to reach an agreement otherwise they will have to change to a new solicitor if a court application has to be made.

The parties negotiate with their solicitors in face-to-face ‘round table’ meetings and there is a strong emphasis on working together at all times for the benefit of both clients.

Private Court Hearings

Increasingly, parties are instructing a “private judge” to make decisions on financial and children matters.

This could be in a private FDR (Financial Dispute Resolution) which is for finances only or a private ENE (Early Neutral Evaluation) for children matters or in arbitration (which can address both the finances and any arrangements for the children).

The private FDR or ENE is a “without prejudice” hearing at which both parties are usually represented by barristers and which takes place in a private office setting. The parties pay a barrister or solicitor to be the “private judge”. Unlike in the court system where judges are pressed for time and there are long waiting lists, a private FDR can be arranged in a matter of weeks and the parties are guaranteed that the private judge has had plenty of time to read the papers in full. At the private FDR or ENE the private judge hears arguments on both sides but not usually oral evidence from the parties and gives an indication of the sort of order he or she would make if this was a final hearing. The parties then negotiate through their barristers and solicitors that day and try to reach an agreement. If they reach an agreement, this can be made into a court order.  

Arbitration is like a private final hearing, which again is held at a private location. The parties may give evidence orally and be asked questions by each other’s barristers. The arbitrator will make a ruling and the parties are bound by it. The ruling can then be put into the form of an order and approved by a judge.

Litigation

Sometimes court is inevitable and there are separate court processes that deal with finances and children matters. These will involve a series of hearings in front of magistrates, district judges or a circuit or high court judge.

In finance cases there will be some disclosure given and in children proceedings some evidence filed. The court will then try to broker an agreement. If that is not successful, the case will proceed to a longer hearing at which the parties are likely to have to answer questions in front of a judge.  This is known as a final hearing.

We will explain as the case progresses what is required to happen between each hearing and we will provide an estimate of our costs for carrying out the work. Even among those cases that go to court, most will settle before they reach a final hearing.

We will engage a barrister to act on your behalf and to give advice for any court proceedings.  We will discuss who that should be and the likely costs before we engage them.

Private Wealth Law

We have a specialist private wealth team at Burgess Mee. We provide advice to our clients on estate and succession planning matters, including the preparation of wills and trusts and advising on the related taxation.

We can meet with our clients in whichever way they prefer, to advise and take instructions. On average we will have two meetings before we are in a position to draft a will or trust documents. An initial meeting is important, taking between one to two hours. Time is spent exploring the options for a will or tax planning exercise; we always aim to progress will drafting swiftly, to ensure our clients’ wishes will be carried out on death.

Where clients have come to us from our family law colleagues, we will meet with them at an early stage in the divorce process. We can ascertain what steps can be taken in relation to inheritance or business succession, given they may be separating from their spouse or civil partner. It can be beneficial to review wills at an early stage and then, once financial proceedings have ended, review or implement the estate planning options we have discussed.

pricing

We manage costs transparently and simply.

We recognise that the last thing you need is the additional financial complication of how your advice and representation will be funded. We try to make this as clear and straightforward as possible.

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