As a family lawyer, I am most often engaged by clients who need help disentangling themselves from a marriage which has ended. I help them work out what financial arrangements would be most appropriate and what arrangements could work best for any children. However, whilst pragmatic and strategic legal advice is obviously a huge part of my job, I also spend a lot of time talking to clients about the relationship they have with their husband or wife, and talking about how that relationship has come to grief. Helping clients to salvage what they can of that relationship and helping them learn how best to communicate with their soon to be ex-spouse often makes a huge difference to how easy it is to make arrangements for children or to deal with money issues. I consider it to be a vital part of my role, albeit that it is not something that you would necessarily expect in a family lawyer’s written job description.
When I talk about my work to friends or family, I am regularly asked why relationships come to grief. There is no single answer to that question but if I had to identify one of the most common reasons it would be a breakdown in communication. Clearly, this is to simplify what are often incredibly complex issues but, in my experience, an inability to communicate about important things that happen during the course of a relationship has a very significant impact on the durability of that relationship. Communication is key.
Even if a relationship has foundered, good communication is vital if a couple are to continue to make joint parenting decisions. Communication can be direct, it can be via email, it can be via text message, but whatever means is used, being able to talk about what is important for a couple’s children makes a big difference to those children’s experience of a separation. If lawyers are involved, as proxies for their clients, they are also responsible for a key line of communication. The way lawyers communicate can be as important as how clients communicate direct. Not only can this have a big impact on the outcome of a breakdown of a relationship for children but it can also make it much easier for a couple to reach a consensus in relation to what should happen in relation to their finances.
Communication being such a passion of mine, I was delighted last year to be appointed to the board of trustees of the charity One Plus One. One Plus One aims to strengthen relationships by creating resources to help families and front line workers tackle relationship issues early on. Based on the latest research evidence, their work promotes early action in relationship support. They equip people with the skills and knowledge to work on relationship issues before they become entrenched. They also provide support for couples who are separating. Being involved with a charity concerned wholly with supporting relationships has given me a brand new perspective. Looking at relationships from the other end of the telescope not only helps me to think about how I do my job but enables me to use some of my experience to help One Plus One do theirs.