Going to court during the Covid-19 pandemic has become a lengthy, difficult and costly process. But do I need to go to court? What alternatives are there?
January 2021 saw the opening of our brand new family law office in Holmfirth demonstrating Harrington Family Law's commitment to the future and the belief in the principle of face-to-face legal advice, wherever possible, being the best means of its delivery.
Harrington Family Law has seen a growing demand in the Holme Valley and surrounding areas for family advice and aim to be best placed to provide it. More and more local families are facing the prospect of lengthy costly court settlements so the expert advice that Harrington Family Law provide is being increasingly sought.
Covid secure face-to-face legal advice will resume once it is safe to do so following the current National Lockdown restrictions. Until then, we offer the same expertise in the form of consultations over the 'phone or by either 'Teams' or 'Zoom'.
Many have become used to 'a new way of working' and that includes the approach we as family lawyers take to settling the disputes between our clients and how we overcome the difficulties it poses.
The Difficulties of 'Going To Court'
The pandemic has had a huge impact upon families and nationally the legal system has come under increasing pressure.
Applications concerning the arrangements to deal with who the children of a relationship should live with and what time they should spend with each parent have soared. These applications have been further hampered by delays in the court process as well as a huge backlog of work.
Senior members of the family courts have expressed frustration about this, saying "these cases should never have come to the court and can be settled by alternative means". So what alternatives are available to couples in dispute?
Alternatives To Court - The Harrington Family Law Approach
First, mediation. This method of dispute resolution has been around for a few years now and has the benefit of being supported by legal aid for those who meet the qualifying criteria. Agreements reached though mediation can be registered as orders from the court and works well if both parties co-operate and show willing. There is a nationwide network of mediators in family disputes and appointments are usually readily available and settlements can be reached in a fraction of the time taken for court proceedings.
Family litigation is by its nature expensive. Even a relatively straightforward case can cost both parties thousands to resolve. With it taking sometimes up to four or six months to settle a case though the courts, alternatives are becoming more popular.
Arbitration, for example, is where the parties pay privately for their own court hearing or decision. A qualified arbitrator (usually a senior barrister or solicitor) will consider the evidence either on paper or from the parties in evidence and give a decision. Both parties must sign an arbitration agreement and be bound by the arbitrator's decision which must be sanctioned by the court. The costs are met equally and are far less than going through the courts and quicker. Arbitration can be used for both financial and children disputes.
Some clients will also consider a private FDR or "Financial Dispute Resolution" before a senior legal professional as well. The difference here is that the person leading the FDR is there to carry out the role the judge as if the matter were before the court: to give an indication as to how they would expect the case to settle and then try to assist the parties in negotiating a settlement. It is up to the parties then to move towards an agreement and if reached draw up its terms.
It will normally take anything up to three or four months from issue of proceedings to reach an FDR before the court and again cost both parties anything between £5,000.00 to £7,500.00 each and sometimes more to reach this stage. However, if all parties agree and are satisfied that all the paperwork and financial disclosure is in order, this can be a quicker and more cost-effective means of reaching a decision.
In a recent Court of Appeal case Haley -v- Haley  EWCA Civ 1369 Lord Justice King said 'There is a common misconception that the use of arbitration....is the purview only of the rich...If ever that was the position it is no more. It is widely anticipated that parties in modest asset cases will increasingly use the arbitration process in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis as the courts cope with the backlog of cases, which is the inevitable consequence of lockdown'.
You will find that the legal professionals at Harrington Family Law are alive to the alternatives to lengthy and expensive litigation and, where suitable ,offer these alternatives to our clients. Value for money is as much a concern as a fair settlement and good advice for clients and we must look at the best way to deliver it.
The best way to find out the most appropriate and best way forward for your situation is to call us today at Harrington Family Law on 01484 810210 for friendly, caring expert advice on how to achieve the very best settlement for you and your family that you can afford.
Our Holmfirth Office is at 26 Victoria Street, Holmfirth HD9 7DE
Call 01484 810210 today to make your telephone, video call or covid secure appointment.