Carol, Sonia and Bhavna, speak to Talented Ladies Club on how they combined their professional and personal experiences to form Divorce Negotiator.
What are your career backgrounds?
Carol: I passed my Chartered Institute of Legal Executive exams back in the 1990s and then went to work for Crown Prosecution Services for a number of years. I moved from there to a family practice but didn’t like the work, which I felt encouraged acrimonious divorces.
Sonia: I have practiced as a lawyer since 2003 and ran my law firm since 2008. Now I work with families as a negotiator with Divorce Negotiator.
Bhavna: I qualified as a family lawyer in 2000 and have spent some time in private practice, representing clients in matters relating to divorce and separation, as well as disagreements relating to children and domestic violence cases. I have been involved with Divorce Negotiator since 2013.
What inspired you to launch Divorce Negotiator?
Carol: I felt there was a need for a means of achieving an amicable divorce following my own difficult separation. My ex-husband would only speak to me through his solicitor, which cost both of us a fortune. From there on, I went to find the most ruthless female solicitor, who encouraged me to go for the lion share of the marital assets.
Sonia: I had a genuine desire to help families, which practicing as a solicitor did not allow me to entirely fulfil. I became disenchanted with the traditional legal process after increasingly coming across solicitors with an antagonistic and hostile approach.
Unlike most solicitors, I am not the aggressive, “bull dog” type. All I have ever been interested in is helping families to solve their problems by giving them practical solutions. At Divorce Negotiator, I help families to understand that it is possible to separate without the hate and maintain a civil connection with each other.
How is Divorce Negotiator different from other solicitors?
Carol: Moving away from traditional law firms has enabled us to help couples rather than hinder them. We assist them rather than represent them. We show them a number of different ways to reach a settlement that is better for them and their families, leaving more money in their pockets.
On average, we save couples approximately 60-70% of what they would have paid both using a high street law firm. We also cut the time down by 50%.
Sonia: The biggest difference between us and solicitors is that solicitors must act in the best interest of only one party. At DN, we are not tied to such rules, so we can help both. This sounds simple, but in fact it is the single most significant factor as to why our approach is far more successful. When you get two solicitors fighting solely for the interest of their own client, disputes are likely to spiral into court action.
Bhavna: Whilst we are all legally trained, Divorce Negotiator is not a solicitor’s practice. Because we look after both parties, we are able to help the whole family transition smoothly during a difficult time, through discussion, practical solutions and compromise. We always ensure that any children are always the priority.
What is the difference between divorce negotiation and a mediator?
Bhavna: Whilst our work overlaps the remit of a mediator, we go further to help our clients. In the traditional route, a person going through a separation would speak to a solicitor, and encourage the other person to find a solicitor as well.
The legal paperwork would be started between the two solicitors, but at some point, the couple would be advised to seek the help of a mediator as well.
The mediator’s role would be to help the parties reach an agreement, upon which the couple would be sent back to their respective solicitors for legal paperwork to be drawn up.
Divorce Negotiator simplifies this process by working with both parties to reach agreements, as well as drafting all necessary legal paperwork through to the final decree.
How can you help your clients achieve a more amicable divorce?
Sonia: Human beings are creatures of emotion and when emotions are running high, it can really cloud their judgements about what is best for their families. Add an aggressive solicitor into the mix and you have a recipe for an acrimonious divorce.
Getting an amicable divorce need not be difficult. Our method is simple; we take combative solicitors out of the equation, open the line of direct communication between the couple in a safe and respectful environment, and get them to shift the emphasis from the blame game towards how everyone’s needs and interests can be met fairly.
You usually find that with these simple tools, most couples are able to come to an agreement on their own. When this is not possible we provide practical solutions to aid their negotiations.
Has going through a divorce yourself helped you to better understand your clients?
Carol: Most definitely. During my time at Divorce Negotiator, hearing some of the tragic stories from clients that have had their relationship with their solicitor break down makes me know that we definitely did the right thing in setting up this business.
My ex-husband’s first wife and I are good friends, and we often go out together with her daughter, my step-daughter.
Sonia: I have not been through a divorce myself, but I am married to a divorcee. My husband’s divorce happened more than 15 years ago, but the scars from the proceedings persist to a certain extent.
My husband’s experience certainly helped me to create an understanding of what the process is like from the inside – when emotions run high, people behave in irrational ways.
No matter how hostile or unreasonable my clients are being, I don’t judge them; I appreciate that this is often not the ‘real’ them, and that deep down, they are good people who are simply hurt by divorce.
Bhavna: I came across Divorce Negotiator when I was separated and looking for suitable options to help me achieve an amicable divorce. My ex-husband had no legal knowledge and I wanted him to be able to access advice and information.
We both agreed that we did not want to use solicitors as this could aggravate the situation. For me, Divorce Negotiator provided the perfect mix of a solution-focused process that would provide equal support to both myself and my ex husband.
Do you have a typical client? And if so, who are they?
Bhavna: I don’t think there are typical clients, just like there aren’t typical relationships or marriages. The dynamics for each couple are different and that is what makes the work interesting.
When you are due to meet a couple for the first time, you can never predict how the meeting will go, and often one or the other will throw something into the mix that will surprise and change the course of the discussions.
What challenges have you faced in launching Divorce Negotiator?
Carol: Our biggest challenge is that we must call ourselves associate solicitors, as opposed to practicing solicitors, despite the fact that we are all trained in law. This is simply because we are not governed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
And what’s been your proudest moment so far?
Carol: Helping couples to remain friends, or at least on speaking terms so that the children are not affected too badly.
Couples never entirely separate when they have children together, there will always be Christmas and birthdays and it is the children that suffer if neither party can stand to be in the same room as the other.
Sonia: Watching a couple walk out arm in arm after a meeting about how they were going to split their assets. They had not been on speaking terms for a while.
Bhavna: Knowing that I have been part of helping a family come through such a difficult time in the best way possible is definitely a good feeling. We get amazing feedback from clients, which is very rewarding.
What do you love most about your work?
Carol: Showing couples it doesn’t have to be a fight and that the person they fell in love with is still there, they are merely camouflaged by the emotion of recent events. You may fall out of love with them, but you don’t have to hate them.
Bhavna: Helping couples take control of their divorce and showing them that the process does not have to be the bitter experience that they are expecting it to be.
What are your top three pieces of advice to help people divorce amicably?
And the three biggest mistakes most divorcing couples make?
Read the full interview with Talented Ladies Club here.