Harry Gates and Samantha Woodham of box-fresh initiative The Divorce Surgery tell about a new way to get divorced: one couple, one lawyer.
The Divorce Surgery is the brainchild of two family barristers at 4 Paper Buildings and approved by the Bar Standards Board. Woodham and Gates realised that they and many of their profession had just simply given up trying to defend the traditional system of one lawyer each. “It is – no argument – destructive, inefficient, undignified and expensive, and truly necessary in only a tiny minority of cases,” says Gates. “Most separating couples don’t start out expecting to ask a judge to rule on who keeps the house/parrot/signed England football shirt from Euro ‘96 (true, I am afraid). Many end up there however, unable to extract themselves from the adversarial system we have created, bowled along by its unstoppable momentum.”
So Gates and Woodham are now feeling a bit better about themselves thanks to their new service, The Divorce Surgery, which is the first of its kind in the country to allow a separating couple to access legal advice together, from one expert: ‘One Couple, One Lawyer’, as they call it. They say it is much quicker and cheaper than engaging a set of lawyers each, although these are not even the main benefits. The Divorce Surgery’s goal is to encourage couples to take more responsibility at the outset for their future plans. This is because divorce is ultimately a shared problem, says Gates “irrespective of who has behaved disgracefully or who failed to put the bins out.”
Philippa Dolan, mediation guru and partner at Collier Bristow, suggests that although this concept is a positive step and will rightly attract clients, there may still be conflicts of interest issues that arise. Dolan says, “A conflict of interest arises where your duty as a lawyer to give best advice to your client conflicts with the advice you’d give to the other client. For example, should a loan from the husband’s parents to buy the family home be repaid? It depends whether you’re advising their son or daughter-in-law.” Dolan continues, “It’s a delicate balance. I imagine there will be occasions when the Divorce Surgery find they have to stop acting once the complexities of a case unfolds.”