Areas of Practice

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Family Mediation 

Family mediation is a service that helps couples who are separating and divorcing to negotiate their own legal agreements. Those agreements can incorporate clauses relating to maintenance, property and parenting. Family mediation will help the couple resolve their differences in a calm, rational manner with the assistance of legal advice if necessary. 

Family mediation is voluntary and couples must work together so that the agenda is mutually acceptable and emotions are put to one side. Neither party can dominate the process and both parties must participate in good faith. Family mediation works to help couples to make a fair, workable, just and equitable settlement of their issues after relationship breakdown.

Assisted Negotiation

Negotiation is a dialogue between two parties where they attempt to reach an agreed course of action. Over 90% of family law cases are settled by negotiation at the door of the court.

Assisted negotiation is a voluntary process where a mediator works to help individuals or couples reach a mutually agreeable solution with or without lawyers. Negotiation can be difficult when individuals attempt to do so on their own behalf and often the intervention of a trusted third party can help the negotiation process

Case Review

Many people hire lawyers in the hope that their family law problems will be settled in a timely and efficient manner. 

If your case has dragged on for a long time or you are unsure that the process is working to your benefit, it might be time to call in a specialist who can advise you the management of your case to date. 

Strategic Advice

​Before you embark on mediation, litigation or negotiation it is a good idea to sit down with a specialist who will listen to your situation in a holistic way and offer you strategic advice before you make those important decisions. 

The six steps:

Follow the 6 steps to get you through a break-up:

1. I will look after myself.

2. I will put my children first.

3. If possible, I will try alternative dispute resolution.

4. If I have to litigate, I will litigate well.

5. I will not neglect my finances.

6. I will move on to my new life without bitterness and regret.

 

The Irish Times - Monday, March 20, 2012

Couples can dismantle their relationships in a civilised manner by adopting a ‘positive plan’ for separation, writes SHEILA WAYMAN

‘BREAKING UP is hard to do. . .” We can all sing along with feeling to the Neil Sedaka song. Separation or divorce is often likened to a bereavement – only worse, some say, because there is not the same sense of closure that a coffin lid brings.But while we tend to hear about the horror stories, involving personal acts of revenge and gigantic legal bills, couples can and do dismantle their relationships in a civilised manner. And where children are involved, it is, perhaps, the least they can do.

Barrister and family mediator Rachel Fehily believes more people could save themselves time, money and heartache if they were better informed about options and resources before embarking on the painful journey of disengaging as a couple.

She has written a holistic “positive plan” for separation or divorce in Ireland, called Break Up, Don’t Crack Up , that is out this month. It comes not long after the publication of her previous book, Split: True Stories of Relationship Breakdown in Ireland , last November.

As a barrister who went on to specialise in family mediation, did she become disillusioned with the adversarial legal system?

“You begin to notice that the legal system isn’t really solving people’s problems – in all areas of law, not just family law,” she explains. “But it is necessary – there has to be a final arbiter of fact or conflict.

”However, at the pre-legal stage, it is very important that people have other options, says Fehily, who did a one-year course in conflict resolution at UCD and now works solely in mediation.Intense and articulate, she balances a no-nonsense attitude with compassion for the difficulties humans find themselves in when love grows cold.

“You have a huge duty to your children to resolve things as amicably as possible,” says Fehily, a separated mother of two boys, Harvey (13) and Jack (11). “I feel really strongly about this.

”Couples breaking up tend to link parenting of their children with the division of assets, she explains. “They will say, ‘You are not paying maintenance, so I am not going to let you see our child’, which is so wrong. “Those two things have to be kept separately and not used as a weapon; the sooner people start to separate those two things in their mind the better.

”Every couple’s separation or divorce is unique to their relationship. “The grounds for battle or conflict fall in different areas for different people. That is why everybody’s conflict resolution mechanism almost needs to be tailor-made for them. She would like to see something like the Australian system, where couples have to make a “genuine effort” at mediation to find a solution to their disputes over parenting before going to court, introduced here.

Currently in Ireland, solicitors have to give clients seeking judicial separation or divorce a list of conflict resolution experts. She, and many others working within the legal system, don’t think that’s enough. But the Dolphin House pilot project (see panel, right) seems to be a step in the right direction.

However, when using mediation for issues such as parenting and assets, “it is of utmost importance that people have independent legal advice before they sign up to anything”, says Fehily.

Ask her about the most common mistakes people make when breaking up, and she hardly knows where to start, “there are so many”.

She outlines five:

1. Trying to make decisions when they are in huge distress It is impossible for people to deal with parenting, financial and other long-term issues if emotionally they are not ready. So the first port of call for professional help might be a GP, who can refer you for counselling.

2. Fighting in front of the children“That is a big mistake,” she stresses. Conflict can sometimes be driven by engaging with the legal process, she acknowledges, but children need to be shielded from this.

3. Automatically going to law and not looking for an alternativeLitigation can be a very long, drawn out and costly process, “and not necessarily give them the solutions they are looking for”, says Fehily.

She advises that it is always in people’s own interests to use peaceful rather than high-conflict means to resolve relationship disputes, such as mediation, counselling or collaborative law – unless there really is no alternative.

4. Neglecting their finances or having an unrealistic view of how their financial situation is going to be resolved

Fehily points out that you are trying to set up two houses, there are children involved and everybody’s living standards are going to be diminished.“This is a really hard thing for people to get their head around. ”People often think if their ex behaved badly during the marriage, they will do better in court financially.

But Fehily does not believe judges divide assets up on this basis; decisions are based on needs of the family and legal aspects.“Unless behaviour is abhorrent, I don’t think it is a significant factor,” she says.

5. Failing to move on after the separation agreement is finalisedWhen people keep revisiting the same conflicts, as if they are on a loop, they are not doing themselves nor their children any good. They need to go and talk to a professional after a certain period of time if they can’t move on, she suggests. Not surprisingly, considering the fall-out from messed-up relationships that Fehily encounters in her work, she says people need to think very carefully before they get married – even before they live together.

“I think more people should do pre-marriage courses.” With increased global mobility, relationships and marriages between people of different nationalities and cultures are becoming much more common, but people need to be aware of the potential pitfalls. “The big problem is when the relationship breaks down and both parties want to go their separate ways, back to their family and friends, or they want to educate their children in their own language and culture.”The “nightmare scenario” is where you have married somebody from a country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention and a child is parentally abducted, she says.

“If you marry somebody and that person’s country is a signatory, it gives you some protection, as that country will enforce custody and access orders made in another signatory country.

”After a break-up, many people, understandably, feel very strongly that they want to go back to their own country.“It is such a high-conflict decision, that it can be non-negotiable and end up in court and you have to live with the decision that a judge makes,” she says.“This is why it is so important the legal system gets involved in cases like this. It is almost like the judgment of Solomon, cutting a child in two.“If your child goes to live in America and you are living in Ireland, that is going to irrevocably change the nature of your relationship with your child forever.

”Break Up, Don’t Crack Up by Rachel Fehily is published by Orpen Press, €14.99

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