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As part of putting children first it is important you consider alternatives to Court proceedings. Court proceedings are stressful for all involved, especially for your children. You may be able to find an alternative that works for you.

Within family law, the Courts operate from the “No Order” principle. This means that Courts will not make an order unless it deems it as absolutely necessary and that without an order the child/ren concerned will be worse off. Court orders are a last resort. Following separation from your ex-partner, making an application to Court should be the final step if you have no other alternative and you cannot agree the issues.

Both Mediation and collaborative law may be viable alternatives to the Court arena for solving your disputes:

Mediation

Mediation can help you resolve matters without going to Court.

Trained mediators assist you and your ex to explore possibilities for resolving your disputes and come to a formal agreement. These meetings take place both separately and alongside your ex-partner, without solicitors present. It is important to remember that mediation is a voluntary process - both parties must be willing to engage constructively with it.

A trained mediator is a qualified independent person who will not take sides nor will they try and counsel you and your ex to get back together! A mediator will not tell you what to do but instead, assists you and your the other parent to discuss matters and hopefully come to an agreement. It is recommended therefore that you take legal advice, alongside mediation to assist and advise you through the process of separation.

Please be aware - not all cases are suitable for mediation. This is particularly the case if there has been violence in the relationship or there are welfare concerns. At the outset, a mediator will assess whether or not your circumstances are suitable for mediation. A Me-diation and Information Assessment Meeting MIAM - will help the mediator determine whether or not mediation is suitable for you.

If you do reach a solution the following will happen:

• A document will be prepared by the mediator which summarises the proposals. You will then be advised by the mediator to seek legal advice regarding this document before formalising the agreement.

• If and when you are happy with the agreement this will be formalised into a Memorandum of Understanding.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is similar to mediation as it is a non-confrontational way of solving disputes however, it is different in that you have your solicitor by your side throughout the whole process without any third party present.

Collaborative law gives you the constant support of your solicitor who ensures that your priorities are effectively met throughout the negotiations.

Benefits of the Collaborative Law Process:

• You decide the pace and agenda of the discussions

• You have your Solicitor by your side throughout the whole process of negotiations

• All parties are under a duty to provide full and honest disclosure so that couples are working with the facts

• Parties are placed under a signed agreement to instruct other solicitors should proceedings fail and require the involvement of the courts (this is a real incentive for both sides to stick with the discussions until they reach a mutual solution)

• These are cost effective for both parties

• The process helps parties put children first and resolve issues amicably in a non-confrontational setting.

• The decision reached at the end is yours, not that of a Judge or another third party.

This process allows couples to remain amicable whilst reaching serious, formal agreements without having to go to Court.

To find out more about the options available to you, contact your lawyer who will guide you through and assist you in deciding what the best option is for you.