Articles


Law and Counselling

Taken from an article by Jan Slater and                 Martin Chambers. August 2012

 

In this tough fast past world, where people have pressured lives and high expectations, relationships often struggle to survive. Hopefully some can be saved with the help of a relationship counsellor, whilst others may move towards an ending, with one or both parties taking legal advise in preparation for separation or divorce.

We take a look into the working life of two professionals, Martin Chambers, a Resolution member and family law solicitor for LSG in Piccadilly and Jan Slater a psychotherapist and relationship expert in Harley Street.  In a unique quest to understand and explore how each other might work, we join them as they explore the world of therapy and law, in an effort to understand and evaluate each other’s role.

 I was wondering Martin. What is Resolution and why did you become a member?

Resolution (formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association) is an organisation of family lawyers with some 6,500 members. Resolution’s members are committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. Resolution members follow a Code of Practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems. Resolution members encourage solutions that consider the needs of the whole family - and in particular the best interests of children.

Further details of Resolution can be found by visiting their website:- http://www.resolution.org.uk/

I joined the Solicitors Family Law Association (“SFLA”) (as it then was) since I shared the organisation’s approach to the resolution of family problems. There are other benefits of membership, which include Resolution’s support of the development of family lawyers through training programmes, publications and “Good Practice” guides. Resolution also trains and accredits mediators. I trained as a mediator with the SFLA. Resolution is also the only body providing training and support for collaborative lawyers in England and Wales.

Martin how does being a member of Resolution effect the way you advise clients? I am mindful of the need to approach family matters in a constructive and non-confrontational way and to adhere to the Resolution Code of Practice. For example I encourage clients to put the best interests of any children first and emphasise to them the importance of being open and honest in all dealings. However, nothing in the Code of Practice or my membership of Resolution prevents me from acting in the best interests of my clients and ensuring that they are fully and properly represented. 

“Mediators are trained to help people resolve disputes. A mediator will meet with you and your partner and will identify those issues you can’t agree on and help you to try and reach agreement. Mediators are neutral and will not take sides in any dispute. They are not advisors and will not give advice on your individual position to either of you and will usually recommend that you each obtain legal advice alongside the mediation process.

“The collaborative family law process is a relatively new way of dealing with family disputes. Each person appoints their own lawyer but instead of conducting negotiations between you and your partner by letter or phone you meet together to work things out face to face.

“Each of you will have your lawyer by your side throughout the entire process and therefore you will benefit from legal advice as you go. The aim of collaborative law is to resolve family disputes without going to court”.

How long have you been working in Family Law?

I have dealt with family matters throughout my professional life, initially whilst training as a solicitor then from my admission as a solicitor on 1 February 1984. Since April 1999 my caseload has been predominantly family work. I now practice exclusively as a family lawyer.


 


What did you have to do Martin to become a member of Resolution?

I submitted an application form, having been nominated by an existing member and seconded by another. My application was then considered and the (successful) result of it was notified to me. The application process has changed since that time. Full details of the current process, including the application form, are available on the Resolution website. You may be interested to learn that non-lawyers who support Resolution’s aims can become affiliate members. Affiliate status open to a wide range of related professionals such as independent financial advisers, mediators, guardians, family therapists and counsellors. Applicants for affiliate membership are required to complete an affiliate membership application form and be proposed by a Resolution member.

 How often would you see a client?

This would vary from case to case. A straightforward case involving only divorce, civil partnership dissolution, nullity or judicial separation might require only one meeting. However, the number of meetings is likely to increase considerably if there are financial/property and children issues to be resolved. Having said that it is often possible to deal with the majority of matters using email and telephone, thus reducing the need for face-to-face meetings.

 What advice do you have for someone considering ending a relationship or finds themselves the injured party?

I would always recommend that independent legal advice be sought at the earliest possible stage. Many Resolution members offer a free or fixed fee initial meeting where a potential client’s individual options can be discussed and it can be considered whether mediation or collaborative law are right for that person.  There are a number of what I term “urban myths” about family law matters. These include that a marriage or civil partnership ends automatically after two years of separation; that there is such a thing as a “quickie” divorce and that “common law marriage” is recognised under English law. It is essential that people obtain advice from someone able to address such misinformation.

Would you see any way in which Resolution members and counsellors, family therapists, etcetera, could both assist the same person or are these disciplines incompatible? 

I believe that there is an obvious synergy between the ways in which Resolution members and counsellers, family therapists, etcetera work. Indeed the Code of Conduct requires Resolution members to “Inform clients of the options”, including counselling and family therapy. For this reason I am pleased that I am able to pass details of such professionals to my clients where appropriate.   

Jan do you only see clients that wish to repair their relationship or get back together?

No not always. I see clients for all manner of reasons, affairs, conflict, domestic violence, sexual issues, addiction… those considering leaving a relationship, and those who have been left. I also see couples that have decided to separate but are finding it difficult without anger and resentment getting in the way. Sometimes people come for help with issues like telling the children or about access and contact. Some come to have a safe, caring environment to discuss feelings around finances, housing, possessions or whether they should try and remain friends or not.  It is rare that both parties agree on all aspects of separation.

 Can someone come along to see you on his or her own for relationship counselling?

               Yes, they can and they do quite often. I see a lot of people who are unhappy in their relationship and looking for solutions. People often contact when their partner has announced they are leaving. Clients, whose partners have left them, suffer greatly. The emotions can be so unmanageable that they suffer physical symptoms like panic attacks, headaches, aches and pains. It is also very common to suffer sleep deprivation, eating disturbance and low mood when in the grip of relationship breakdown.  I can support them through this period and give them strategies to cope. Then there are those who cannot decide whether to go or stay, and are agonising over making the right decision. Some worry what their partner might do, or the effect on their children, extended family or finances.

 



What are the benefits for the clients of seeing a relationship expert?

There are lots. Firstly it offers a safe and confidential environment to explore the issues. I think having someone impartial who will listen to both parties, and who can help them improve their communication and manage their emotions is a huge benefit. Families although well meaning, can find it difficult being impartial, especially when children might be involved. Some clients fear rejection by family members for their decision, or fear judgement by their friends, especially if it involves infidelity. So without the counsellor clients may feel very alone. At times people will come and see me to explore how to tell their children that mummy is going to leave daddy, or visa versa. Clients value the counselling environment, and find it a safe place to talk about contentious issues. My aim is to put clients at ease. I will not judge them or the situation and together we discuss and explore a way forward. When clients have a safe place to talk, they are able to communicate more effectively. The benefits are numerous.

 How long have you been working with clients with relationship issues?

I have been in private practice for over sixteen years now and part of my work involves working with couples or individuals seeking relationship counselling.

 Have you had any special training in this area?

Yes, after qualifying as a therapist I went on to train with ‘Relate’ as a couples’ counsellor and worked with them for a few years before eventually dedicating all my time to my private practices in London and Cheltenham. I completed further training in the areas of domestic violence, working with mental illness in couple relationships and working with clients with sexual issues. My experience in this field has equipped me with a variety of skills to help couples and individuals. I am an accredited member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. www.bacp.co.uk and registered with the United Kingdom Register of Counsellors and the Association of Independent Psychotherapists. I am also a recommended BUPA provider.

 How long would a session be and how often?

Couples sessions may be up to 90 minutes for a first appointment, then 50 -75 minutes in the London Harley Street practice. Most couples will attend a counselling session for 50 minutes once a week, for as long as they need support. The structure and time frame protect clients from becoming emotionally exhausted whilst emotions run high.  Exploring the issues in the counselling room help to keep heated discussions or arguments out of the earshot of children. For more details visit my websites www.janslatercounselling.co.uk   www.counsellingingloucestershire.co.uk

 Do you have any advice Jan for people struggling with their relationship or facing separation or divorce?

At first, I would suggest they try and set time aside to listen to each other’s points of view. Avoid bringing up every little thing, but to try and prioritise. Maybe chose the most important aspect and limit theThe most important aspect and limit the time you talk, to under an hour. Relationships require compromise and effort and good dollop of goodwill!  If this fails, then my advice would be to seek support from a counsellor. When working with a counsellor there are no hidden agendas, no taking sides. A trained counsellor will be fully aware of the emotions clients are going through. They will be empathetic but truly realistic, helping clients to come to terms with and manage whatever comes next. They will help couples explore ways to communicate with each other more effectively and support individuals through change and loss.

A survey conducted by Relate some years ago reported:

80% of clients for whom the question was relevant said counselling had had a positive effect in helping them maintain or strengthen their couple relationship

73% of client for whom the question was relevant said counselling had a positive effect in helping them to save their couple relationship

74% of clients, for whom the question was relevant, felt that counselling had helped them come to terms with a relationship that had ended

If you ask most couples who have hit a problem with their relationship or have gone through divorce, a large percentage will say they have seen a counsellor. It may surprise people to know that at around half of my clients are male.

I think I can safely say Martin, that if a relationship has to end, then parting in the least hurtful and destructive way can be facilitated through good counselling support. It reduces the pain and anguish and helps couples that have children to focus on the things that matter. Whether clients come alone or as a couple, I will listen, support and offer strategies to help them, in a safe caring environment. Very much in a similar way that you offer confidential support and explore different outcomes. Although I would say, it might be better to come to see me as a first resort.

 

Martin Chambers, a Resolution member and family law solicitor for LSG in Piccadilly and Jan Slater a psychotherapist and relationship expert in Harley Street.