A Better Way

Anyone else see the BBC programme “Millionaires Ex-Wives Club”? Having assured myself it was required viewing for anyone involved in family law, I had my excuse. It was the sort of programme that hooks you in then keeps you watching. Whatever the numbers under discussion, one clear message was about the universality of the pain of divorce.

What I loved though was Lisa Tchenguiz (who famously divorced the man from Del Monte) when she was talking about having become a divorce guru for her friends going through the same thing. And her clear message? Settle. That advice was in part based on keeping yourself sane so you can move on and focus on your own future.

There are of course many ways of achieving settlement. You would expect me at least to mention mediation, especially in what is Family Mediation Week. Mediation can be used whatever the facts of the case. I accept (although fellow mediators may well argue this one with me) that, if there are substantial assets and incomes and complex structures involved, you need a mediator who understands all that stuff. I know the theory is that mediation skills apply whatever the circumstances. However for a start if you are going to have credibility with high net worth clients they need to feel that you are the master of the subject. Otherwise you risk losing them virtually before you start. Also you need at least a passing acquaintance with a range of tax and other points so you can signal the need for expert input before clients go racing off with what they think is a done deal. So I’m afraid I’m a firm believer in the need for an informed mediator and good legal and accountancy advice alongside the process.

However the guiding principles remain the same whatever the factual matrix. What you always have at bottom is two people with a raft of different emotions, usually fairly high levels of distrust and often a burning desire to hurt to assuage their own pain. What any good mediator offers is skill in handling those emotional issues in the room so they can be defused to the extent that constructive dialogue is possible. What mediation itself affords couples is the chance to be in the same space together so that they can actually talk. I was asked recently just to let my clients talk to each other for a few moments. For many of our clients there is no other safe place to do just that.

So if, following Ms Tchenguiz, you think settlement is a worthy goal in itself, there are far worse places to reach a settlement than in mediation.

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