Courtroom scenes are a staple of TV, film and radio. Think To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, Kramer vs Kramer, right down to the recent and much discussed trial of Helen Titchener in The Archers. Most of us will have our own mental inventory of great film or TV courtroom storylines, usually involving a criminal trial.
Most TV and film courtrooms are places for revelations and vindication. They encourage the notion that a day in a court is a desirable way to sort out an issue.
In reality, going to court to solve a legal dispute is often less satisfactory than expected. Far from resolving issues, it can create new problems, especially when families and family businesses are involved.
One major drawback with using litigation in family law disputes is the irreversibility of what is said in court or in the lead-up to it. The process can encourage point-scoring, or force family members to take sides; hurtful things said in court cannot be unsaid; and the ripples run more widely into people’s circles of family and friends.
Secondly, the process can be very stressful for children and grandparents. Even when spared participation in court itself, they may be affected by damage to family relationships.
Thirdly, the reality of people having their ‘day in court’ is that they are letting the judge, a stranger to them and their family, make possibly life-changing decisions for them on the strength of a few hours of evidence.
Certainly, there are situations in family law where going to court is unavoidable and even desirable. These include obtaining protection orders against domestic abuse or forced marriage.
However, in most situations, resolving disputes outside the courts can be less inflammatory and less expensive.
A number of alternative resolution methods are available, including:
- mediation (using a trained mediator who helps the parties find a solution)
- collaboration (where clients and their solicitors meet together, and commit to avoid litigation).
A family law specialist can explain the pros and cons of the different options for each family including where litigation may be the right step.
Constructive negotiation, mediation and collaboration may not make good television, but they probably lead to happier endings.