What is a round table meeting and can it resolve disputes in family law?
It has been a challenging time for Family lawyers so far this century. The legal aid budget has been reduced significantly and there are presently ongoing cuts to our court system.
As a result, it has become increasingly important for practitioners to adapt their practice and explore different ways to help clients resolve their problems. Leading this approach is Resolution, with over 6,500 members who are family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. The Code of Practice at Resolution promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems and there are committees within the organisation that seek to take the lead in this regard. For example, the Parenting After Parting Committee, of which I am member, strives to ensure parents post separation co-parent with each other which will often be viewed in the best interests of their children.
Just because you are going through a separation, or having a dispute with your ex-partner concerning your child(ren), does not mean that the court process is the only option available to you. My experience is that often those who go through such a process are left emotionally damaged by that system. Presently, there is a lack of funding in the family court system leading to delay and insufficient resources available to help those facing difficulty family law issues.
Round tables – an alternative resolution option for separating couples
At Calibrate Law, we believe in approaching family law in a modern way by working with you from the outset to decide which dispute resolution option would be best in your specific case. One option potentially available, which I detail in this article, are round table meetings.
These meetings would involve you, your ex-partner and your respective legal representatives coming together, ideally all in the same room, with a shared aim of exploring ideas to resolve your differences. This method really can encourage dialogue and provides an opportunity to hear each other’s point of view. It can be highly effective.
Sometimes trying to get across one’s point can be difficult to achieve in correspondence without offending the other party, and can be very time consuming and, therefore, very expensive if lawyers are sending frequent letters. You may find one session (between 60 to 90 minutes long) is all you need, although realistically three or four meetings will likely be required. Those meetings, over a few weeks, could achieve more than months of negotiations through correspondence.
Round table meetings will not work although if you or your ex-partner refuses to listen to the other and/or either of you is determined that your outcome is the only one you will accept.
What can be discussed in round table meetings?
Round table meetings can cover any aspect of family law, including financial and children arrangements. However, children and financial topics should not be discussed in the same meeting to ensure decisions concerning what is best for your child(ren) are not influenced by discussion relating to the finances.
Although, as I have said, it is preferable for all parties to be in the same room, if one or both of you is uncomfortable with this, you could begin the process in separate rooms. You could later progress to meetings in the same room dependent on how those discussions progress.
Who should be involved in a round table meeting?
Round table meetings can involve third parties, if appropriate. Your case may have possible tax liability, pension considerations, international issues or assets concerning a business, trusts or other types of assets. In these situations, a third party may be needed who has expertise in a specific field to give advice to you, your ex-partner and the lawyers as to what issues need to be considered and how they can be resolved.
If there is a concern that one party may try to control the topic of the meeting, then you may want a mediator to sit in on the meeting to ensure the meeting is conducted fairly taking all parties’ views into account. If emotions are running high between you and your ex-partner, a family therapist may be a helpful addition to the meetings.
Who should be involved in a roundtable meeting, and how meetings are conducted, can vary from case to case. This is where you need the advice from your family lawyer to direct you as to whether a round table meeting is right for you and, if so, how they should be approached.
A genuine attempt to find a solution
In my practice I have seen an increase in round table meetings in recent years. I believe this has been contributed to certain family lawyers taking a more collaborative approach in family law and building trusting relationships with colleagues in the profession. It does help if the lawyer on the other side has the same philosophy as your lawyer as to how they approach family law.
From my experience round table meetings have worked because they do focus everyone’s mind on the issues in dispute and there is a genuine attempt by all to find a solution, rather than asking a third party to make the decision for them. Psychologically this is very important as neither party feels disempowered.
Are there any disadvantages the round table resolution process?
Like with any form of dispute resolution there can be disadvantages. Unintentionally, lawyers can dominate the meeting therefore resulting in you and your ex-partner sitting as observers rather than as participants. They can be expensive, especially if you have taken part in meetings which conclude without an agreement being reached. They can sometimes feel quite intense and tiring for all parties due to the pressure in trying to reach an agreement. Tiredness can result in mistakes being made or important issues that needed to be addressed being forgotten.
This article is not intended to tell you that a round table meeting is the right option for you. It is an option and one that I believe has more positive than negatives. Most importantly, it gives you and your ex-partner the opportunity to control what the final arrangements are rather than that control being taken out of your hands by a judge or arbitrator.
When you do speak to your family lawyer make sure they give you all the options that are available to you. You can then weigh up the advantages and disadvantages and decide from there how you wish to proceed.
Marc is a Senior Associate and Collaborative Lawyer who works in our family law team Central London. He was nominated for Associated of the Year at the Family Law Awards 2019.
This paper is intended to be a brief note for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. Please speak to a member of our team.