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By Jeniffer Gallagher, Blackadders Partner
At this time of year it's wise for family lawyers to have an additional box of (strong) paper hankies standing by as they prepare for a sharp increase in calls from furious spouses seeking to initiate a separation or even divorce.
It is all part of the annual post-festive, family fall out with serious marital rifts emerging over issues such as excessive spending on presents, over-indulgence in alcohol or sexual misbehaviour with a colleague at the office bash. However, Christmas is usually not the cause of the riftper sebut a catalyst for underlying grievances within the marriage to come to a head.
Both statistically and anecdotally family lawyers are most in demand in January as wronged spouses make the move to "see a lawyer" three or four days into the new year. Interestingly, there is also a later surge, in March. This is put down to couples unsuccessfully trying to work through a festive-inspired family trauma and, having failed to do so, seeking some formal arrangement about living apart.
Contrary to popular belief, most family lawyers are not out to extract every pound of flesh from the other party but rather try to resolve disputes quickly and constructively. The principal aim is to reach a settlement without the involvement of the court, for two reasons: A, it can be prohibitively expensive and, B, the Scottish courts have a huge amount of discretion in deciding what amounts to a fair settlement, meaning it is possible to present the same facts to three different judges and get three different answers as to what is fair.
Some family lawyers are specially trained in collaborative family law. The purpose of this form of dispute resolution is to follow an alternative to court through collaboration. One of several advantages is that rather than the lawyers writing back and forth and each client's wishes becoming lost in translation, all discussions take place at four-way meetings. The couple control the decision making process but the emphasis is putting the interests of their children (if any) at the core of any agreement. Crucially both the clients and the solicitors sign a binding agreement at the outset that they will not take the dispute into court.
Perhaps the most constructive part of this system is the way it tends to alleviate feelings of bitterness, which is the main reason why divorcing or separating couples tend to dig themselves into expensive holes. Under a collaborative culture, an agreeable (if not ideal) proposal is accepted by both parties and the resultant legal bill does not require either to sell their pianos. For good measure, the lawyer will also provide the paper hankies free of charge.
Jennifer Gallagher is an accredited specialist in family law and a partner with Blackadders, LLP