The process of divorce : a study of solicitors and their clients
The central aim of this thesis is to explore how the service provided by solicitors is currently operating and meeting the needs of clients seeking a divorce. The impetus for this project was the growth and government promotion of family mediation in the 1990s as an alternative/adjunct to the services provided by a solicitor. This change to the divorce process was proposed without an adequate knowledge of the solicitor led service and appeared to be based on assumptions which were not supported by substantial evidence. An ethnographic study was undertaken involving forty clients and ten solicitors. As divorce is a dynamic process rather than a single event each case was followed as far as possible from the first appointment between the solicitor and client until the conclusion of the case. A combination of observation of the solicitor-client meetings and interviews with both the solicitor and client after each meeting enabled the researcher to obtain a unique perspective on the interaction between solicitors and their clients. The results from the study include, that the process was largely solicitor led, such that there was a degree of failure on the part of solicitors to listen to their clients with the result that issues such as domestic violence and the possibility of reconciliation were often not adequately explored; that clients had their own 'boundaries of fairness' regarding the appropriate resolution of their case, which were quite distinct from the solicitors' view of the appropriate outcome; that the solicitor-client interaction is often not dyadic, new partners of clients being observed to exert significant influence on the process and outcomes, and that the solicitors in this study appeared to have absorbed some of the ethos and values behind family mediation into their practice, working to goals of neutrality, objectivity and a desire to minimise any rise in spousal conflict. This latter goal sometimes led to the replication of spousal power imbalances, in terms of the final settlement. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the results, including questioning whether solicitors should widen their remit in order adequately to deal with the wider needs of clients. It is also suggested that the current role of the family law solicitor is in a state of flux and that both solicitors and clients are unclear about the role that solicitors perform. The thesis closes with a number of questions which have emerged from this research that could usefully inform further research in this area.