Family Law Insights: It’s good to talk… The case for Round Table Meetings in divorce

A photo of John Randle, Senior Counsel and Head of Family Practice at McAllister Olivarius.

John Randle, Head of Family Practice

John is a specialist family solicitor with over 40 years’ experience dealing with complex, high value divorce cases.

In the early part of my career, solicitors negotiated their clients’ divorces by picking up the phone. A solicitor’s priority was to establish rapport with the other side in the hopes of coming to a settlement that met both parties’ demands. The quick phone call seems to have fallen out of fashion now, with most solicitors preferring to negotiate through carefully composed emails. In my view, this drains negotiations of their natural dynamics, making the process unnecessarily slow and cumbersome. Solicitors are in danger of forgetting just how productive a focused conversation can be, which is why Round Table Meetings can be a valuable part of the divorce process.

What is a Round Table Meeting?

As the name implies, Round Table Meetings involve both parties and their solicitors sitting down together in the hopes that they can negotiate an amicable settlement. These meetings can be remarkably effective when done properly.  I have seen no small number of cases where a successful Round Table Meeting has resolved deadlocked negotiations that looked destined to end up in court. While barristers are not required to attend, I find the process works especially well when they are present. A good barrister can bring a fresh perspective to negotiations, along with a keen intuition for what the courts are likely to decide if a settlement cannot be reached.

Round Table Meetings can be used to address any number of issues, from agreeing interim arrangements to settling child arrangement disputes, but they work particularly well on financial cases. For direct negotiation to work, the facts cannot be in dispute. As Mr Justice Mostyn famously said, “the financial landscape must be clear”. The case must have progressed sufficiently for both sides to know what assets are at stake, and what complications may arise concerning their division. Just as importantly, both sides must have a proposal ready to put to the other side. If the solicitors have done their job properly, both parties will be prepared to meet objections with a workable solution. The starting position should not be “You want to keep the house, I think I should have it”, but “If you get to keep the house, I would like this in return”.

Advantages of Round Table Meetings

The negotiating parties should walk into the meeting knowing that if they cannot resolve their dispute amicably that day, they are likely to end up in court. And, as Mr Justice Mostyn put it, “if, once the financial landscape is clear, you do not openly negotiate reasonably, then you will likely suffer a penalty in costs”. This penalty can be significant: While each case is unique, reaching a settlement at the Round Table stage can more than halve the legal costs of divorce. And cost is not the only reason to recommend Round Table meetings. For divorcing couples with children, finding a way to settle financial differences amicably can remove domestic tensions and help foster a better relationship between the two sets of parents. For all couples, reaching an agreement avoids the lottery of having a judge to settle the matter at court.

Communicating over email has its value, but when it comes to divorce, solicitors need to remember that direct communication is often the best approach.

Contact John and his team today for a free and confidential initial chat. Alternatively, to find out more about what we can offer you, visit our Family Law page.