Family lawyers, and the Milton Keynes grid system

I was contacted this week and asked to write about a specific problem which has arisen in the life of a reader’s family member, who has suffered a relationship breakdown, and is unmarried, not on the house deeds and is unable to agree on contact arrangements for the children of the family.

This made me realise that blogging about family law is not really representative of the realities of practising this area of law, or using a family lawyer.  I write about discrete topics, but the experiences of those using family lawyers will be more complex.  People’s lives rarely fit neatly into a specific chapter of a family law book, but are unique, and require advice spanning multiple topics in this area of law.

Family lawyers using the courts have to dissect a life into different topic areas: Family Law Act application if there is abuse, Financial Remedy application to sort out finance on divorce, Children Act application to resolve contact issues, Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees application to apportion houses belonging to couples who are not married.  What presents as a Spaghetti Junction of a life consisting of twists and turns will need to be dissected into court size pieces to enable a judge to give judgment on discrete issues.

Milton Keynes is known for its grid traffic system, vertical V roads, and horizontal H roads, and roadabouts connecting them all up.  This creates a sense of order, and certainty about your direction of travel.  Of course, you have to learn how the system works, otherwise it is monumentally confusing, and potentially even distressing.  If you have someone with you to show you the way, or talk you through your journey, then the grid system makes sense.  To me, the role of the family lawyer is analogous, in that I take the Spaghetti Junction of facts of someone’s life and help that individual develop an understanding of how the court works, and how to turn a life of facts into a case, so that they understand the route they are going to take.  I guide others on their journey through that system.

By involving a court, the parties hand over the agenda to someone else.  If those parties decide to mediate or use a form of dispute resolution, such as collaborative law, then they retain control of the agenda.  They do not need to learn to the use the grid system.  They can drive, together wherever they want to go.  It might be that the trip takes longer, with unusual stops on route, but it will have been their journey, which they can hopefully conclude together when they choose.  Pat Conroy wrote “Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey”. At the start of collaborative proceedings clients are often asked to consider how they wish to be able to reflect on their divorce.  This quote reminds us all of the importance of considering the legacy of a divorce on all passengers involved.

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