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Alternative resolution conferences (ARCs) - a new option for divorcing couples

21 July 2011

This month, we are hosting the launch of a new initiative to help separating and divorcing couples resolve financial disputes. The service, believed to be the first of its type in the UK, offers private, independent settlement meetings to resolve disputes without the need for court proceedings.

The scheme, originally the idea of partner James Grigg, head of our family law team, is a collaboration between Willans and two other Gloucestershire law firms, Tayntons and Rickerbys, in association with barristers at Albion Chambers in Bristol.  

Partner James Grigg said: “We have come together as a network to offer a speedier and more flexible approach to couples locked in dispute over finances.

“Called alternative resolution conferences, or ARCs, the new service is designed to help couples avoid the costs, delay and stress often associated with court proceedings. Instead, financial issues can be addressed early and at a time and place convenient for the couple.

“Each of the couple is represented separately by their own expert solicitor. An independent, specialist family barrister assumes the role of ‘the judge’.  He or she hears the arguments put forward by both sides’ solicitors and provides his assessment of what is likely to happen if the case were to proceed to a court hearing.

“It is an attractive option because both sides feel confident in the opinion of an expert family law barrister who brings wide knowledge and understanding of the court system.

“This sort of early neutral evaluation is particularly suitable for cases where the couple is keen to settle and avoid the escalating costs.

“An ARC differs from mediation because both parties are represented by solicitors. It is effectively a court hearing without the court.

“The scheme is voluntary and confidential and can be accessed at any stage. It offers a tailor-made solution for the couple, providing a real alternative to the adversarial court process.”

The benefits of ARCs include:

  • the cost is shared equally between the couple as the specialist family barrister is instructed on a joint basis
  • the process is tailor-made to the couple’s own circumstances rather than subject to a rigid and standard procedure
  • an early resolution may be achieved
  • the individuals have more control and are able to ask questions and make further representations if they wish.
  • the specialist family barrister has the opportunity to consider the papers in much greater detail than a busy court judge.
  • the barrister has the opportunity to consider the papers well in advance of the meeting and is able to identify any missing information
  • as with court-based financial dispute resolution, all discussions are on a ‘without prejudice’ basis.

James Grigg added: “This is a fresh approach that provides a real alternative to court.

“For many, a court is not the best forum in which to resolve the difficult financial issues associated with the break-up of a relationship. This view has been endorsed by Parliament in the Family Procedure Rules, introduced in April, which state:  “There is a general acknowledgement that an adversarial court process is not always best suited to the resolution of family disputes …”.

If you need clear and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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Sharon Giles LLB (Hons)
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Family law solicitor
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