The first letter anyone receives from a solicitor is so important – and without a doubt this cannot be more truthful than when a relationship is ending. It brings with it through your letter box, all the emotion and realisation that you are actually pulling in different directions and it is that letter that may well set the tone for how you are likely to deal with all of the issues surrounding the separation.
A good experienced solicitor who understands the impact of separation on any family, and the impact of that first letter, should do all they can to minimise the opportunity for confrontation.
Members of the professional family law body Resolution should and will abide by the Resolution Code of Practice (www.resolution.org.uk). The Guide to Good Practice for Family Lawyers states that the contents of that letter should be discussed and approved prior to it being sent and makes it clear that it should not contain confrontational language. Instead it should aim to help resolve the issues and to open up some constructive dialogue.
It is however fully acknowledged that not all solicitors who practice family law behave in this way.
So, what do you do if you are the recipient of a letter which is aggressive and dismissive of your parenting skills? The non-legal advice is to put the letter down and take a deep breath, then take several more. Don’t react immediately. Give yourself time to think. Probably the last thing you should do in that moment is to pick the phone up.
The worst possible reaction is to dig a deep trench, jump into it and spend valuable time, emotional effort and probably expense in lobbing hand grenades backwards and forwards. Much more importantly, there are your children standing in ‘no man’s land’ watching and listening to the destruction going on around them.
Tackle the emotional impact, then set about working to keep communication with your partner open. Talk to them. You are allowed to. Is this really what they wanted to say to you? Keep calm. Always keep your true priorities at the forefront. A relationship breakdown can affect trust which invariably impacts upon communication. If this is happening consider involving someone professional, like a mediator. They can help you work together to resolve your differences and keep you talking. Your children can only benefit.
Think about getting your own advice. I can’t stress the importance of choosing your solicitor wisely and carefully. They can make all the difference to the journey through separation. Leave them to use their skills to respond for you and to take the burden of the legalities from you. They can see the bigger picture and a path through. They are not affected by the understandable and very real emotions.
Or, you have every right to choose to respond directly yourself. Solicitors regularly receive communication directly. Be careful though, there are ways and means of putting your side forward without getting into a situation of crossfire.
Again it’s that old advice of taking breaths and taking time. Emails and letters put together in the early hours of the morning or during the heat of the moment usually fail to make any real progress and can only inflame a situation. Type it, save it, go and do something else, then come back to it some time later and ask yourself the questions – is this really relevant to the important issues? Does this really say what is important to me? Have I put forward a reasonable plan of action to try and resolve this?
By family law solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Mandy Rimmer