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Resolving disputes

Family Law Symposium

On Wednesday 6 March 2019, Bournemouth University hosted a Family Law Symposium. In partnership with Bournemouth Collaborative Law Pod, the symposium saw BU law students work together with external professionals to showcase the contrasting types of dispute resolution available to clients.

The event consisted of short role plays demonstrating the processes of mediation, litigation, arbitration and, the newest method, collaboration. The purpose of which was to increase awareness of the variety of processes available while illustrating how some methods may be more or less suitable in resolving family disputes following the breakdown of relationships. With over 100 individuals attending the event, including over 30 trained lawyers, experts, mediators and past and present law students, the event was an insightful and successful one.

Martine Hardwick, the Unit Leader for Family Law and a family mediator herself, organised the event with Emma Hamilton-Cole as the Lead Coordinator for the experts involved. Emma is a Partner at Williams Thompson Solicitors, Head of the Family Law Department and the Secretary of the Collaborative Law Pod.

Law students Boyana Kehayova and Nelupa Shikdar welcomed the guests; providing programmes. The symposium commenced with Bournemouth University’s Head of Law, Sue Warnock, welcoming those in attendance followed by Martine Hardwick outlining the structure and aim of the event.

Martine also briefed the audience on the background of the scenario which focused on fictitious couple, Ian and Vicky Humber. The couple had recently separated but have remained living in the family home with their three children aged 6, 9 and 11.

The first two role plays focused on child arrangement issues. This was depicted via the mediation and court process role plays to highlight the different levels of engagement conferred to clients and the degree to which lawyers and mediators can assist in dispute resolution.

Mediation

The mediation process was led by Family mediator Michelle Bettell with law students Toby Johnson and Lauren Hall, assuming the roles of Ian and Vicky.

The process saw Michelle assist the couple in coming to an agreement about how much time each parent may spend with the children. Michelle highlighted that in mediation, she could also speak with the children in a confidential manner, at the parents’ discretion, should they so wish. Notably, the encouragement from the mediator facilitated an increase in communication between the couple. Michelle commended Vicky and Ian’s focus on their children and their ongoing commitment as joint and equal parents. 

Litigation

The mediation role play was contrasted with the court process. This was  demonstrated by law students Skye Partridge and Matthew Ralston as the advocates for Vicky and Ian, played by Sarah Ashley and Luke Gilham respectively.

Submissions were made to His Honour Judge Richards with Emma Hamilton-Cole commentating on the process. This demonstration provided the audience with an insight into this ‘last resort’ resolution should the mediation process not succeed. This also conveyed the lack of input afforded to clients seeking a Child Arrangement Order emphasising the abundance of communication between the parties in the mediation process. Judgement was given at the end of the role play, with His Honour Judge Richards refusing to make an Order, sending the parents to mediation; highlighting the importance of other dispute resolution methods which can be used to produce a more satisfactory outcome.

The last two role plays shifted the focus to the resolution of financial issues regarding the family home, pension and recently inherited money.

Collaboration

The third role-play showcased the innovative dispute resolution method known as the collaborative law process.

Emma Hamilton-Cole represented Ian Humber, played by law student Aistis Puidokas, while Jonathan Talbot, Partner and Head of Family at Laceys solicitors represented Vicky Humber, played by law student Jasmine Cattigan. Financial Advisor, Cheryl Bowden, was also present to provide expertise regarding the dispute surrounding the sharing of Ian’s pension.

The audience were able to see the initial separate meetings between the collaborative lawyers and their respective clients, followed by the collaborative meeting with Cheryl. This process brings together the assistance of lawyers seen in the court process with client participation as seen in mediation. This was demonstrated via the session being guided by the lawyers but with emphasis on encouraging client engagement and support throughout the meeting. Through this, the audience acquired a detailed understanding of how client compromise and agreement can be reached. The role play finished with agreement between the parties regarding the sharing of the pension and the allocation of some other financial assets including the use of Vicky’s inheritance money.

Arbitration

The final role play demonstrated the arbitration process led by Simon Lillington; Barrister and Arbitrator specialising in Matrimonial Finance and Property.

Law students Emily Griffiths played Vicky and Ilhan Idriz played Ian. Law students Sarah Rochester and Nicholas Auriana advocated on their behalf.

After submissions were made to the Arbitrator, an award was made at the end of the process. The award is traditionally made in writing, but for the purposes of this event a vocal indication as to the likely outcome was provided. The role play demonstrated that, like litigation, arbitration is non-consensual - the Arbitrator imposes the outcome on you. However, Simon drew distinction between litigation and arbitration noting that consensual elements did exist including the parties having to agree to go to arbitration and agreeing on the arbitrator.

These performances exemplified how the collaborative and mediation processes provide clients with the opportunity to discuss shared interests and come to a joint resolution that can satisfy both clients; the key to success being a willingness to compromise and be flexible to reach a resolution. The Court and arbitration processes highlighted the contradistinction between the non-acrimonious methods; illustrated through the fact that these more formal methods do not offer the same opportunity for meaningful communication between clients.

Following the role plays, the audience were provided the opportunity, led by law student and Event Supervisor, Alice Phillipson, to put questions to our panel of experts. Sue Warnock then closed the event by thanking the professionals, students and Martine for their organisation and active contributions to the event. Students and professionals were then invited to enjoy drinks and light refreshments. This allowed for invaluable networking opportunities, for both students and experts. A special thanks is extended to Alice, Boryana and Nelupa who assisted with the networking event.

It is hoped that collaborative events such as these will continue not only to provide excellent opportunities for students and the legal community to engage with each other but also to demonstrate the range of dispute solutions available within family law.

On behalf of Bournemouth University, we would like to thank once again the many experts, students and the “Group Visual” filming team, led by filming students Liam Hopley and Francis Lawton, who contributed to make such a successful and memorable event.

By Jasmine Cattigan and Sophie Audus

(LLB undergraduate students)