'Divorce Without Pain ©': 5 months on from formation June 2010

A blog entry from November 2010, when 'Divorce Without Pain' had been running for 5 months.

The co-operative 'Divorce Without Pain' (DWP) has now been in existence for 5 months. How is it working? What has arisen from the learning experience? What for the future?

Necessarily with a new scheme, we have confined our case load to suitable, selected pilot cases, two of which are captured in the 'Case Studies' published here on the DWP blog. This element of selection almost certainly distorts results - by choosing apparently ideal cases for facilitation one inevitably attains a higher level of satisfactory outcome. So, the fact that every case undertaken has resulted in total settlement with avoidance of court proceedings is exciting, but not necessarily indicative. What is clear, is that the methodology of DWP dispute resolution is particularly suited to family conflict, whether in relation to children, money or both. Clients (whose identities have to remain confidential) have reported first class feedback from both the process and the facilitators involved. Scoring on a '1=low' to '10= high' scale, we are yet to encounter a score below 9 from either party in any of the pilot cases! So, in summary, it is working very well indeed.

The pilot cases have thrown up a number of useful pointers with regard to 'process'. The first and most important appears to be the wish to be steered in a more directive way than simple facilitation. Mediators are reporting that the parties, aware that the mediator is also an experienced legal practitioner, are wanting to know what a court would do if they were not to agree between themselves. Of course, this is a difficult area. Different judges will make different decisions; outcomes will vary on the basis of what evidence is accepted and how parties come across. The mediator or facilitator will never know for sure what would be the court's outcome. Experience goes a long way, but introducing it changes the process from being, what the purists would recognise as facilitative/non-evaluative mediation - to a hybrid form of more directive/ evaluative conciliation.

Taking this into account, DWP quickly decided that we should not be too 'precious' about process. We moved away from compartmentalised thinking about the process: "is it this?" "is it that?" - to a much more holistic event that took account of the individual expectations and wishes of the clients concerned.

Unsurprisingly, most of the pilot cases turned less on the 'hard' issues of facts, law and positions - and more on points of perceptions, misunderstandings, emotions, interests, concerns, feelings, beliefs, values, needs and fears. As practitioners, we have known this to be the case all along, but as the legal process generally ignores them, we have steered our clients away from them. What DWP facilitators reported as "fascinating" was the range of issues that could be resolved alongside the thorny details of 'how much contact' and 'how much money'. The upshot has been that, by way of process, DWP is more inclined to focus on an extended range of issues, rather than simply pressing for a quick fix.

So, what of the future? 'Divorce Without Pain' as both a method of working to resolve family disputes and as a successful organisation is clearly here to stay. Over the next five months we will be moving it into mainstream dispute resolution and offering the service more widely over North East England. Whilst the Bar Council has been encouraging of developing a nationwide application, we propose to tread with care. Importantly, we need to keep the confidence of the District Judges who would otherwise decide these cases in the absence of agreement, and to do this we need to maintain close relationships and a close dialogue with them.

If you are reading this, and have got this far, why not sample the service that DWP provides? At present, the charges are pilot-scale modest. Consider making a referral to a client, or as a party to conflict simply take the plunge and pick up the phone to chat about the service. We are always pleased to discuss things without charge, and to steer you to the best outcome.

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