"The court process struggles to alter parental behaviour. It is up to the two people involved to do that, which is something we work on during our round table discussions."
Prettys’ family team, which is based in the Suffolk town of Ipswich, uses what it describes as a holistic package of expertise in dealing with disputes over issues such as shared childcare, and financial support.
The firm tries to bring together both parents for a round table discussion with other experts, such as psychologists and counsellors if necessary. Typically, this is quite unusual among legal practices. Whilst solicitors tend to focus on the type of process available (such as mediation) the parties focus less on what the process is called and more on the ability to just sit and sort things out.
This year has seen a seven per cent increase in child dispute applications being made to court, according to Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service.
Georgie Hall, Prettys’ partner and head of private client who spearheads the family team’s roundtable work in this area, said that this type of work can reduce worry and anxiety for children and parents.
Child dispute cases can often end up in court, but Ms Hall was keen to stress that getting a family to sit down and talk through the issues can be much more productive.
“Our round table process looks to take a more practical and constructive approach to legal proceedings. Even if a court order is in place, it doesn’t mean the problems go away,” she said.
“The court process struggles to alter parental behaviour. It is up to the two people involved to do that, which is something we work on during our round table discussions.”
In some cases, the firm will bring the child into the discussion, with proper expert support depending on their understanding of the case, which in their experience is generally considered to be around 11-12 years old.
“What we look for is for parents to think in the same way in putting the child first, to find common ground and to agree on a process going forward.”
One parent who referred herself and her teenage son for roundtable work so that his voice could be heard said: “I felt in really safe hands when I was at my most vulnerable and had previously found it hard to trust professionals. Without Georgie’s advice I wouldn’t be in the happy and safe situation I am now, words cannot describe how thankful I am.”
From issues surrounding where a child should live, to one-off cases involving holidays and schooling, child dispute cases present themselves in a number of ways. And, according to Ms Hall, communication is the key to resolving the problems.
“Often, people believe the legal process can deliver the undeliverable. What can often be useful is to get the parents to open up a discussion to see which elements benefit from the legal framework and which most benefit from other non-lawyer children focussed experts,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s just about making parents aware of the impact they are having on each other and their children. When this is brought to the surface it becomes more straightforward as people become more aware of their behaviour.
“When a relationship breaks down it can cause deep divides and going to court won’t always solve this – it’s like putting a plaster on a festering wound. So, working with them at a round table really helps break down barriers.”
Prettys take a personable, bespoke approach to every case they work with and their team’s unique style, including the round table process, helps achieve results for their clients.
For more information Prettys family law services, get in touch with Georgie Hall. Call 01473 298233 or email firstname.lastname@example.org