One Couple One Lawyer is a service which enables a separating couple to jointly instruct one impartial barrister who can advise them both together as to what a Judge would consider fair in their circumstances.
A crucial point which many separating couples do not realise is that if you want any agreement you make as to the division of your finances or arrangements for your children on divorce to be binding, it must be converted into a Court Order. This is not a rubber stamp exercise. Before doing so, a Judge will need to satisfy themselves that the agreement is fair. To do so, in a finance case, a Judge will analyse a summary of your financial resources and then compare that to the proposed deal you have reached. If a Judge is not satisfied it is fair, the Order will not be approved.
So the sooner you both know what a Judge would consider fair in your circumstances, the sooner you can negotiate constructively in the safe knowledge that any deal you reach is not going to be rejected by a Judge.
Not all couples are suitable for One Couple One Lawyer (see below), but for most there are some huge advantages:
Our traditional, adversarial legal system involves each side being represented by separate lawyers who advise their respective clients as to what is in their interests and put that position to a Judge, who then makes a decision based on what they consider to be fair when applying the law to the facts of the case. Often, as you may imagine, each side pitches their case at each end of the bracket of outcome most favourable to them, and the Judge comes down somewhere between them.
In a One Couple One Lawyer process, the impartial advising barrister skips directly to the role a judge would take. We assist you in completing your financial disclosure and also setting out the issues which matter most to each of you and the outcomes you would each most like to achieve, so the barrister can look at them dispassionately and let you know how a Judge would be likely to react and what a fair outcome (in the eyes of the law) would look like.
All the barristers who advise for The Divorce Surgery are family law specialists who have been chosen because we believe they are some of the best in the business. Depending on the complexity of your situation, we will recommend a barrister of suitable seniority, up to Silk (QC) level. The Divorce Surgery was founded by two specialist family law barristers and they created this service from scratch, with their insiders’ knowledge of our existing system and what could be improved.
The barrister advising you both will never represent either of you going forwards: their only role is to advise you jointly. This gives them complete freedom to be as open and impartial as possible about what they believe a Judge would do on the facts of your case.
The advising barrister meets you together for the Advice Session, then follows that up with a detailed 15-20 page written advice. The advice is privileged, which means that it is confidential to you both and cannot be disclosed in any future court proceedings. It can, however, be shown to any solicitors or mediators who may be assisting you.
We find couples who use the One Couple One Lawyer service tend to take one of the following steps after the Advice Session:
We find whichever route is taken, couples resolve the process much more quickly once they have found out, together, what a Judge would consider to be fair. They also feel much more empowered and in control of the process, which brings huge benefits in managing the stress of divorce proceedings.
Most but not all couples are suitable, and for this reason The Divorce Surgery offers complementary screening sessions, called Introductory Sessions, to any prospective couples informing them about the service but also assessing whether they are suitable. The key markers which will make couples unsuitable are where there are serious allegations of domestic violence, such that you would not feel safe in a room together, allegations of hidden assets, such that you cannot agree what the financial resources in the case really are, or jurisdictional issues.
No, which is why it has only been available recently. Solicitors are unable, due to their conflict rules, to advise a couple together. However, barristers are in a unique position and can offer joint, impartial advice to a separating couple together.
It’s not a new idea. In many other European countries the default starting point is for a separating couple to go to one lawyer who advises them both impartially, and only if they cannot agree do they go to two separate lawyers. It makes a lot of sense, and for many years solicitors have been exploring whether it is a service they could offer here, but they have been prevented from doing so by their conflict rules. Once we realised that barristers could offer the service, we knew we had to do something about it, and The Divorce Surgery was created to enable separating couples to access the service.
At the moment, The Divorce Surgery is the only regulated provider of the service, however we use barristers from across the Family Bar to give our clients the best possible choice of advisers.
They are hugely supportive, recognising that the more that can be done to help couples resolve their disputes early, and by consent, the better the outcomes will be for their own wellbeing and that of their children.
The Divorce Surgery was listed as a member of the proposed Supporting Separating Families Alliance in Mr Justice Cobb’s recent Review of the Child Arrangements Programme, and in the Financial Remedies Courts Good Practice Protocol issued last month, Judges were reminded to be ‘ever-mindful of opportunities for the parties to engage in attempts to reach settlement of some or all the issues out of court by whatever means are suited to the case: Arbitration, Mediation, The Divorce Surgery and Private FDRs where available.’
The Divorce Surgery was awarded the Innovation of the Year Award at the 2019 Family Law Awards and Sir James Munby, former President of the Family Division, has endorsed the One Couple One Lawyer model as follows:
“The Divorce Surgery is a striking example of what can be achieved by those with the vision to see outside traditional approaches. Samantha Woodham and Harry Gates are to be congratulated for their bold innovation, which we should all wish well and hope to see extended.”  Fam Law 1452.