At an early stage, you should explain to your client the approach you adopt in family law work.
You should encourage your client to see the advantages to the family of a constructive and non-confrontational approach as a way of resolving differences. You should advise, negotiate and conduct matters so as to help the family members settle their differences as quickly as possible and reach agreement, while allowing them time to reflect, consider and come to terms with their new situation.
You should make sure that your client understands that the best interests of the child should be put first. You should explain that where a child is involved, your client’s attitude to the other family members will affect the family as a whole and the child’s relationship with his or her parents.
You should encourage the attitude that a family dispute is not a contest in which there is a winner and a loser, but rather that it is a search for fair solutions. You should avoid using words or phrases that suggest or cause a dispute when there is no serious dispute
Emotions are often intense in family disputes. You should avoid inflaming them in any way.
You should take great care when considering the effect your correspondence could have on other family members and your own client. Your letters should be clearly understandable and free of jargon. Remember that clients may see assertive letters between Solicitors as aggressive. Your correspondence should aim to resolve issues and to settle the matters, not to further inflame emotions or to antagonise. Threats or ultimatums should be avoided.
You should stress the need for your client to be open and honest in all aspects of the case. You must explain what could happen if your client is not open and honest.
Relationship with a client
You should make sure that you are objective and do not allow your own emotions or personal opinions to influence your advice.
You must give advice and explain all options to your client. The client must understand the consequences of any decisions that have to make. The decision is to be made by your client, you cannot decide for your client.
You must make your client aware of the legal costs at all stages. The benefits and merits of any step must be balanced against the costs.
You should make sure that your client knows about other available services (such as mediation and counselling) which may bring about a settlement, help your client and other family members, or both. You should explore, with your client, the possibility of reconciliation and, where appropriate, give every encouragement.
Dealing with other Solicitors
In all dealings with other Solicitors, you should show Courtesy and try to maintain a good working relationship.
You should try to avoid criticising the other Solicitors involved in a case.
Dealing with a person who does not have a Solicitor
When you are dealing with someone who is not represented by a Solicitor, you should take even greater care to communicate clearly and try to avoid any technical language or jargon, which is not easily understood.
You should strongly recommend an unrepresented person to consult an Resolution Solicitor in the interests of the family.
When taking any step in the proceedings, the long-term effect on your client and other family members must be balanced with the likely short-term benefit to the case.
If the purpose of taking a particular step in proceedings may be misunderstood or appear hostile, you should consider explaining it, as soon as possible, to the others involved in the case.
Before filing a petition, you and your client should consider whether the other party or his or her Solicitor should be contacted in advance about the petition the “facts” on which the petition is to be based and the particulars, with a view to coming to an agreement and minimising misunderstandings.
When you or your client receive a Petition or Statement of Arrangements for approval, unless there are exceptional circumstances, you should advise your client not to start their own proceedings without giving the other party at least 7 days’ notice, in writing, of the intention to do so.
You should discourage your client from naming a co-respondent unless there are very good reasons to do so.
You should encourage both your client and other family members to put the child’s welfare first.
You should encourage parents to co-operate when making decisions concerning the child, and advise parents that it is often better to make arrangements for the child between themselves, through their Solicitors or through a mediator rather than through a Court hearing.
In any letters you write, you should keep disputes about arrangements for the child separate from disputes about money. They should usually be referred to in separate letters.
You must remember that the interests of the child may not reflect those of either parent. In exceptional cases it may be appropriate for the child to be represented separately by the Official Solicitor, a panel guardian (in specified proceedings) or, in the case of a ‘mature’ child, by another Solicitor.
When the client is a child
You should only accept instructions from a child if you have the necessary training and expertise in this field.
You must continually assess the child’s ability to give instructions.
You should make sure that the child has enough information to make informed decisions. The Solicitor should advise and give information in a clear and understandable way and be aware that certain information may be harmful to the child.
You should not show favour towards either parent, the local authority or any other person involved in the Court proceedings.
Detailed guidelines for solicitors acting for children have been drawn up by Resolution. Copies are available using the contact details below.