Today marks the beginning of National Stress Awareness Month, which has been held every April since 1992, pointing to the fact that – according to the Mental Health Foundation – 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the past year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

And stress, however the statistics are explicated, is one of the most common effects of separation. Lisa Girdwood, a partner at Brodies LLP and a trained collaborative lawyer who specialises in divorce, separation and child law, agrees.

“Divorce is a stressful – and distressing – situation; one that leaves people with a profound sense of loss, regret and often anger. In many ways it can be more debilitating than bereavement. It is true that separating couples no longer have to contend with the shame and stigma which once went along with divorce, but it is nonetheless a uniquely stressful time.”

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Earlier this year Brodies commissioned a YouGov report called Divorce – Let’s talk about it, one of the first surveys of its type in Scotland.

The results, says Girdwood, were informative and underlined the divorce team’s experience of clients in recent years.

Among the key themes that emerged were the acknowledgement that divorce is no longer the shameful event it once was; that the portrayal of the ‘perfect lifestyle’ on social media is giving a false impression of the realities of relationships and marriage; and that stress is the greatest emotion for divorcees and those contemplating separation.

That, says Girdwood, should assist family lawyers to engage meaningfully in conversations about divorce and to respond to some of the misconceptions that still persist.

“There’s sometimes still the feeling that involving a lawyer will actually exacerbate rather than improve the situation – but this is far from the case,” she says.

Separation and divorce need no longer involve highly charged courtroom confrontations such as those portrayed in old movies such as Kramer vs Kramer, where heated exchanges inevitably exacerbate already painful wounds – though Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance was undoubtedly lent authenticity by the fact that he was going through a difficult divorce in reality at the time.

HeraldScotland: Lisa Girdwood of Brodies LLP.Lisa Girdwood of Brodies LLP.

Rather, a sympathetic and expert lawyer can help to demystify a daunting experience and Girdwood says the team at Brodies provides family-centred, alternative ways of resolving issues so that if individuals find themselves in a position now or in the future where divorce is the only option, they receive quality and expert advice to empower them to take control of the process and secure a better outcome for them and their families.

“The results of the YouGov report confirm that by offering clients alternatives to court we can deal with separation constructively and address the debilitating stress which can hamper clients’ ability to make good decisions about their futures she says.

One of the lingering misapprehensions that Girdwood wants to counter about divorce is that it is ineluctably connected with the courtroom and that involving a solicitor will make the situation worse.

“Court ought to be a last resort. We offer clients a range of options including mediation and collaborative law, encouraging couples to have a constructive dialogue which is especially, though not exclusively, important when the needs and interests of children are involved.”

Mediation, which is conducted by a single neutral mediator, has become a familiar concept in recent years and there are also thoughtful and sensible reasons for separating couples to explore the option of collaborative law.

“This involves the clients and their lawyers who must be trained in collaborative law, discussing and addressing all issues in face-to-face meetings”., she explains. “Rather than what can become a lengthy stream of written communications between lawyers with the clients in the background, the clients are at the heart of their own dialogue.

If experts are needed they are jointly instructed, all decisions are made in these meetings with complete transparency. The focus is to help clients agree on shared interests and objectives and to then find a suitable outcome which meets those objectives.”

Collaboration can lead to creative solutions which the parties would not necessarily see from going down the traditional adversarial route.

“One of the benefits of the collaborative model is that we can also bring in other collaboratively trained experts including family counsellors who help couples with the stress and anxiety which goes along with separation.

“We can also call on the resources of collaboratively trained IFAs who act on a neutral basis.

“All of this removes much of the stress for clients and allows them to make decisions which they feel are theirs rather than having out comes imposed upon them by lawyers or by a court,” she says.

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Scotland , she points out, has more enlightened separation and divorce procedures than many jurisdictions.

“We’re fortunate because we have a no-fault jurisdiction. People are not forced to stay in marriages that have clearly come to an end and if the other person doesn’t agree to divorce the longest you will have to remain married is two years.”

Also, the recent consultation on the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, Girdwood says, is an opportunity to re-shape child law in Scotland for the 21st century.

It addresses a host of issues including how children’s views should be taken into account in decision-making, whether shared care for children should be the default position, whether parental rights commonly known as “residence” and “contact” should be reframed and sibling and grandparents’ rights to maintain contact with children.

“Our aim is to give our clients a template to move on positively with their lives and to enable them, if they have children, to co-parent effectively, says Girdwood.

“Family law specialists can ameliorate the inevitable stress associated with separation. We have a really important job to do in helping clients understand that if they have the right lawyer and the right process, we can help to make a difficult situation a lot better.”

For more information please visit www.brodies.com