A fixed-fee family law information service was launched this week to “fill a real gap in public knowledge” about the divorce and separation process, and ensure people are properly informed before they see a solicitor.
The Navigator Service combines a general information session with divorce and separation specialists Bob Greig and Rebecca Giraud, directors of the website OnlyMums & Dads, and a legal information session with mediators and former law firm partners Rachael Oakes and Claire Colbert.
Mr Greig said couples could talk about everything at their first session, including “schools, housing, money and emotions” and any particular stresses they were experiencing.
“The aim is to provide clarity of thought and a sense of direction. Most people who are separating still walk into a solicitor’s office. Our challenge is to get the message across that it is wiser to find out what you want and get the legal information you need before you go in.”
The general information meeting is followed by a legal information meeting with Ms Oakes and Ms Colbert, former family law partners at midlands firm Freeths, who set up Family Mediation and Mentoring Ltd last September.
Ms Oakes, a deputy district judge, was head of the family law team at Freeths before becoming a mediator and non-practising solicitor. Ms Colbert was also a partner at Freeths before leaving practice to become a mediator.
In a Youtube launch video, Ms Oakes said: “As mediators we want to provide a service for couples and individuals who are struggling with: ‘What do I do next? Where do I go? What are my options?’
“People can get all the information they need to decide on their next steps, whether it is divorce, separation or a family dispute.”
Ms Colbert added that the service was about providing “neutral information” and not legal advice on which people could “take a position”.
The information could be used to “dispel some of the myths” they might have picked up from friends or colleagues.
The Navigator Service costs £285 including VAT for the two information sessions of at least 45 minutes each and a free copy of the book 101 Questions About Separating with Children, which he had written with Ms Giraud.
Mr Grieg said he was a property manager for the Church of England before going through a “terrible” divorce in which “what I thought was one hearing turned into more than a dozen hearings”. At the end of it “everyone lost”, though his two daughters remained with him.
He responded by setting up the OnlyDads blog for divorcing fathers to share their experiences.
After he met Ms Giraud, an education consultant working with charities, they set up OnlyMums & Dads in 2007, a not-for-profit website which aims to provide dependable online information and support to people going through divorce or separation.
Mr Greig said much of the information for the website, a community interest company, was provided by family law solicitors, barristers and mediators.
“There is a real gap in public knowledge about what they are going through and what to do next.”
Mr Greig said he and Ms Giraud ran pilot general information sessions last year, which “worked really well – bar one thing”. There was “almost always a legal issue going on”, often court proceedings or a dispute over the children.
He said the solicitors got in touch after launching their business last year. “When we got that email, we both thought ‘that is exactly what we want’. We were on the phone to them within an hour.”