Uncouple is Withers’ novel, industry-leading – and now Spear’s Wealth Management Award-winning – service for couples seeking a faster, private, more cost-effective and more amicable way to separate.
It was conceived from a mediation that took place a few years ago when family law partner Claire Blakemore helped a wife divorce through a different form of mediation, after the traditional method failed. ‘I thought the usual route probably wouldn’t work because there was an imbalance between her and her husband,’ Blakemore tells Spear’s. ‘But I managed to convince her husband’s lawyer to do a slightly different model where we had solicitor and counsel-led mediation… we managed to get it settled in a day.’
‘What really struck me was that clients were often saying to us, “We really want a fair outcome, but we don’t know what fairness is. We don’t really want to go to court, but we don’t know what the options are. And we don’t know the best way, and we want something that’s quicker and private,”’ she adds.
Listening to what her clients were saying led her to join forces with eminent partner Diana Parker and professional support lawyer and mediator Natalie O’Shea to create a ‘roadmap to resolution’ for separating couples. This led to the creation of Uncouple, which the firm describes as ‘the next milestone in the evolution of family practices’.
‘[Clients] want lawyers who can identify the right option for them, rather than just taking them down a traditional path,’ says Blakemore. This is especially important when significant assets are at stake, and more creative, multi-disciplinary solutions are needed – often in consultation with professionals such as tax lawyers and wealth planners.
‘It’s working,’ says Blakemore. ‘It’s been remarkable in terms of seeing the shift in clients’ behaviour. I think that, in part, is driven by the fact that we’re seeing huge delays in the court system.’
Despite the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce in England and Wales from April this year (which will allow couples to dissolve their marriage without accusing one another of wrongdoing), Blakemore warns that changes to the system are not necessarily for the better. If adopted, proposals made in a report by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, could mean that certain details about the lives of divorcing couples are more likely to be made public – a development that would threaten the privacy of families who are already going through a tough time.
‘Obviously, most people don’t have anything to hide, but they don’t necessarily want their private financial [affairs] and their heartbreak to be played out in the public arena,’ says Blakemore. ‘So I think services like Uncouple are what people now need and want. It’s very much the sign of the times and the way in which the practice of family law will be going.’
Image: Sebastian Nevols