Family break up. What are the options.

When divorce looms, one of the key priorities is to ensure that any children involved are looked after properly. We take a look at some of the options available to divorcing couples with children to make a difficult process easier.

The breakup of the family unit can be incredibly traumatic. Over the years, a number of initiatives have developed to make the divorce process less adversarial and more about conciliation and co-operation. This is aimed at reducing costs and speeding up the process, all of which can be particularly beneficial when children are involved.

The Collaborative Approach to Divorce

The collaborative law approach offers an alternative to court room snarling. Backed by Resolution, collaborative law offers couples an opportunity to work together, with individual legal representation, to achieve agreement holistically and without resorting to court proceedings. Rather than handing matters over to your respective legal advisers, you sit down with your ex-partner and your lawyers to discuss and reach agreement. This can be achieved without going to court which means an early resolution and far less acrimony and uncertainty. Having your lawyer with you means that you are less likely to feel nervous about proceedings. The knock on effect is that parents are more likely to feel less stressed and anxious which will be of benefit to their children. Children will see their parents working together to reach agreements relating to them, which can be very beneficial and reduce parenting issues after the separation is concluded.


Mediation is another option, where couples use a third party – the mediator – to reach agreement on childcare arrangements and financial matters. Lawyers aren’t usually present during the mediation sessions, but you can take advice during the process. The mediator is independent and can give information but cannot advise you. The agreements that are reached will be drawn up by the mediator into a Memorandum of Understanding which can then be used by your lawyers to draw up any necessary paperwork. Mediation avoids the need for costly legal proceedings; however, some people may feel that they need the support of a lawyer during the actual mediation process, in which case the collaborative law approach outlined above may be a better option. As with the collaborative approach, though, the process of seeking agreement directly rather than through the courts can be very positive for any children involved in the breakup of the marriage.  In addition, more recently, schemes have been developed to specifically address the needs of any dependant children in the family unit.


Family arbitration has, up till now, been available for resolving financial and property aspects of divorce. From July 2016, arbitration will be available to resolve child disputes too. The Institute of Family Law Arbitrators – a not for profit organisation backed by Family Law Bar Association, Resolution and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators will run the scheme. Arbitration is a process where the divorcing couple have a major say in how proceedings are run. It may be that only one issue is in dispute so that issue may be the only one needing a decision to be made. Final decisions on the matters in dispute will be made by the arbitrator. As with the collaborative approach and mediation, arbitration can offer a quicker, less costly and less acrimonious way of handling a break up, which will, again, be of great benefit to any children involved.

Parents in Dispute Therapy

In some cases, it is simply impossible to avoid emotional and entrenched legal disputes over the care of the children of a divorcing couple, so we thought it was worth mentioning this new and experimental therapy programme that has shown huge benefits. Results were recently published reporting on a ground breaking ‘Parents in Dispute’ therapy programme run by The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and funded by the Department for Work and Pensions through the Help and Support for Separated Families Fund. Targeting long-term separated families in entrenched conflict which involved the family courts, the trial programme offered therapy to separated parents individually with the aim of bringing them together for sessions to improve the parenting of their children. The results included an improved understanding amongst separated parents of the impact their conflict was having on their children, and, significantly, a reduction in stress and anxiety experienced by mothers in these situations.


As you can see, there are a number of options open to you if you are considering divorce that will help you achieve resolution quickly and avoid the costs and acrimony involved in formal legal proceedings. Our expert family lawyers are all members of Resolution and will be happy to discuss the options that might be available to you should you be considering divorce.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.