Benefits of an RTM
In many instances, solicitors can assist a couple to reach agreement through negotiation. This article is part of a series on divorce and separation in England and Wales.(1)
Solicitor negotiations may take place through correspondence, one or more round-table meetings (RTMs), or simply over the phone.
Even if the parties are far apart, solicitor negotiations can be helpful to reduce and outline the issues at hand. Constructive negotiations can be helpful in setting a positive tone, focused on settlement.
Solicitor negotiation is particularly suited to situations where the parties are on amicable terms.
It can also be particularly suitable for separating couples:
- where there is a desire to reach an agreed settlement, rather than have one imposed;
- where there is broad agreement regarding general principles, but various details need to be discussed; and
- in cases which have reached an impasse – getting together in one place for an RTM can focus everyone's minds.
An RTM involves both parties and their respective lawyers sitting around a table to try and reach an agreement regarding matters relating to finances and/or children.
Usually, the parties will be in separate rooms, so that they can speak confidentially and take advice from their respective solicitors. There will also be another room where everyone (or just the solicitors) can come together to negotiate.
An RTM can be useful to break a deadlock in negotiations or to narrow down the issues. Often, clients feel they need the support of a solicitor present to help them negotiate and to advise them, but they also like the idea of reaching their own bespoke solution with their spouse or partner.
RTMs have several benefits:
- "confidential and without prejudice" – this usually means that ideas discussed cannot later be used against either party if there are future court proceedings so negotiations are more open;
- privacy – the venue for an RTM will be far more discreet than a busy court building;
- comfort – an RTM can take place in a more comfortable setting than at court, such as the solicitor's office or a hotel meeting room with refreshments;
- a convenient pace – an RTM can be booked on a date of the parties' choosing and at relatively short notice to deal with an immediate issue, such as arrangements for an imminent school holiday; and
- terms suitable to the parties – both parties are directly involved in the discussions, while also being supported by their solicitor. As a result, they often feel empowered and more positive moving forward.
All cases involve an element of solicitor advice and negotiation. Some are resolved entirely by negotiation. In other cases, negotiation can continue alongside mediation or court proceedings. Mediation involves a couple meeting together with a neutral mediator who will help guide them towards reaching an agreement through a series of face-to-face meetings.
The following is an example of how a negotiation process might unfold.
A solicitor has an initial meeting with their client. It is clear that emotions are running high and there are multiple issues. The couple are still living in the same house and are struggling to sort out arrangements for their children and their finances in the short term.
First phone call between solicitors
The solicitor books a call with the other party's solicitor. They agree that the couple need to put some short-term arrangements in place until they have separated. Both solicitors feel that the couple are likely to be able to work together to sort out arrangements for their children, and agree that both will recommend mediation as the best way forward to resolve those issues. They agree to speak again in a few weeks when matters have settled down.
Second conversation and exchange of financial information
During their second conversation, the solicitors agree that the couple should exchange financial information on a voluntary basis. Both emphasise that their clients are keen to resolve matters swiftly and cost-effectively. They agree that, provided both parties are satisfied with the financial information the other has provided, they should then convene an RTM to discuss settlement.
RTM and settlement
Issues are narrowed down at the RTM, written offers are exchanged soon after and a few remaining issues are discussed in a series of telephone conversations between the solicitors. An agreed consent order is sent to the court.
Frequently, following an early discussion with the other party's solicitor, it will be possible to form a view as to whether a particular case is capable of being resolved by negotiation, whether it would be well suited to another form of out-of-court resolution, or whether a client's interests would best be preserved by making a court application.
For further information on this topic please contact Joanne Edwards, Rosie Schumm, Simon Blain, or Matthew Brunsdon Tully at Forsters LLP by telephone (+44 20 7863 8333) or email ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]). The Forsters LLP website can be accessed at www.forsters.co.uk.
(1) For the first article in the series, please see "Divorce and separation: Family Court process".