25th May 2016

Keep Calm and Mediate

Mudslinging, name calling and stand offs. A court room battle which ends with no discernible success for anyone. Is that how you would choose to separate and divorce? It is certainly not the way that I, as a lawyer, want to conduct my client’s cases.

Gary Lineker recently accused lawyers of fuelling acrimony between divorcing couples. He also suggested that lawyers will try and increase their fees at every opportunity making the whole process very expensive.

In my experience that is simply not the case. Family Lawyers do their upmost to reduce conflict and help parties make progress.

In Scotland we have an obligation to explore and explain alternative methods of dispute resolution to our clients at the outset and let them choose the process that best suits their circumstances. One option is mediation. Mediation helps couples work together in a non-confrontational way. As such, it reduces the stress, uncertainty and cost that court proceedings can inevitably bring.

I am presently undertaking training to qualify as a family law mediator. 36 hours of training covering negotiation, child development and reaction to separation as well as adult reaction to loss. The training culminates in a final assessment. Role play (love it or hate it) features significantly and actors are brought into to provide realistic clients and challenging scenarios.

The most recent part of the training focussed on adult dynamics and reaction to loss. It opened my eyes to the importance of understanding, recognising and acknowledging the range of emotions that someone going through a separation will experience. The experience is likened to grief. Parties can feel overwhelmed and uncertain about their future. That can trigger flight or fight reactions. These emotions cannot and should not be ignored. Indeed, recognising and naming these emotions and reassuring clients that these are normal reactions is likely to be helpful.

It is also essential to realise that a couple going through a separation will not feel the same emotions at the same time. While one person may be ready to accept their relationship is at an end and move forward, the other may not have reached that point. This impacts not only on their behaviour but also on the decisions that they make. Part of being a good lawyer and mediator is recognising that and being able to deal with it effectively.

During the course, we discussed different personality traits and how they may impact upon behaviour, decisions and interactions with others. It is interesting to consider that how you react to someone is dependent on how they interact with you. What is essential for a lawyer and successful mediator is to bring a couple into the present and deal with the here and now. It is only then that real progress can be made.

For me, as a family lawyer and hopefully soon to be mediator, Gary Lineker’s views could not be further from the truth. Understanding client’s, how they are feeling and knowing what I can do to help them is an integral part of my job, as is trying to oust acrimony. I hope that by continuing with mediation training I can continue to expand and improve these skills.

For now, Gary and I will have to agree to disagree. Perhaps the only thing we can agree on is the tastiness of a particular potato crisp brand!

Debbie Reekie
Senior Solicitor – Family Law

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