Separation and divorce can be ugly, devastating and expensive.
But there’s a movement of Canberra lawyers and professionals who are out to make the point that it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Kind Lawyers isn’t a law firm. It’s a multidisciplinary movement of lawyers, mediators, therapists and academics who simply want to change the conversation about divorce in our community.
Rather than going to court, The Kind Lawyers’ solution normally includes them looking for flexible alternatives.
Baker Deane & Nutt Lawyers managing partner Tanya Nadin says that although it’s common to think of separations as being long, drawn-out affairs, it’s because we are thinking of them as happening in court.
“By the time a case has made it to court, there’s normally already been a heated exchange between legal teams of both parties, and the scene has been set for some angry litigation,” she says.
Balance Family Law principal lawyer Perpetua Kish was compelled to instigate The Kind Lawyers movement because of the community perception that family law needs to be a battle where parties lawyer up and fight it out in court.
She saw this firsthand as a junior lawyer.
“It was a very high-conflict case that spanned 10 days in the Family Court of Australia,” she says.
“After the judgment had been handed down, the relationships between the parties and the legal teams was still very combative and the litigation continued with new legal teams until those children turned 18.”
Having seen the impact this kind of litigation has on families, Perpetua has since turned to looking at ways the law can be used to de-escalate conflicts, rather than inflame them.
“Combative lawyers, who inflame matters, can also be a real issue, but The Kind Lawyers understand this is an issue that cannot be changed overnight,” she says.
Instead, they want to focus on gently but purposefully educating the community, colleagues and family lawyers about how to practice law differently.
Tanya is very much on the same page, and she says too many graduates leave university believing that litigation, combat and writing nasty letters or exchanging harsh words is the only way to go about approaching a case.
She says collaborative law doesn’t mean both parties’ lawyers don’t remain independent and give independent opinions, rather they agree to come together to look for solutions.
Perpetua is adamant that even when separation isn’t a mutual decision, there is still a way forward. She says it’s about asking people to look for common ground and working together to problem solve, which helps promote both parties being accountable and retaining control over their future.
“When you hear someone is getting a divorce, your first thought is, ‘Quick, get a lawyer and find out what your rights are,’ because everybody knows someone who has had a bad experience,” she says.
“Instead, I ask people what they actually want to achieve with their lives and for their children, and put those interests and goals first and foremost.”
For Tanya, the right way to go about it also means involving other professionals such as accountants or psychologists.
Sometimes her team will bring in an accountant to provide options to the party who may not previously have had any control of the finances, and suddenly need to learn how to support themselves and be independent.
Finances and children are the two elements that make separation so complicated.
“Realistically, when you have children with someone, you’re going to be in one another’s lives forever, not just when the kids are young,” says Tanya.
“Somebody once told me the ideal situation arises when ex-partners can dance with one another at their grown-up child’s wedding.”
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