Should family lawyers give relationship advice?

I see it time and again in blogs by family lawyers. Advice on relationships and dealing with the emotional side of relationship breakdown. I have never given such advice, either when I was practising or as a blogger, as I have always taken the view that I am not qualified to give it. OK, I may have gained some experience of such things from witnessing (at least one side of) so many relationship breakdowns. However, I have never received any training in the area, so any advice I gave would only be of the 'amateur with some knowledge' type, and so could do more harm than good.

Should family lawyers give relationship advice?


  1. Surely you've talked to your clients about their behaviour? I would suggest that the line between that and "relationship advice" is a pretty fine one.
    Even if it is simply to remind a client that talking in a derogatory manner about the other parent in front of the children isn't a good thing to do (which may be included as a recital on an Order) couldn't that be classified relationship advice? Another common example may be when a client is keen to get on with a new relationship before divorce and finances are resolved - I don't think it's crossing the line to suggest to client that they may wish to bring to an end the existing relationship before rushing into a new one (for potential legal implications on finances as well as risk of winding up the ex). It's a very interesting point though, and we must always be wary of overstepping the mark.

  2. Yes, I'm talking of advice on a 'higher' level than the examples you give.

  3. If a client wants to unburden on issues that are related to the family law proceedings, then clearly it is good client care to listen to them (up to a point). I agree though, if it more than just a "moan" and client is distressed or in need of professional medical or therapeutic assistance then it is certainly not the solicitor's job to fulfill that role.

  4. Hi John
    Interesting point. It is pretty much standard in our firm to suggest counselling by qualified therapists, independent of us, at a first meeting. The emotional fall out of a potential divorce and exploring if a marriage can be saved, should never be underestimated or ignored.
    Some clients do want emotional advice going forward thereafter in coping with the legal process and that is something we do know about and can help clients to cope with.
    But handling relationships that are breaking down and trying to save those relationships is different. Lawyers may be consulted at that point and perhaps do recognize faster than the client when the other half is probably having an affair or wants out of a marriage and is pointing the client that way too. The signs are all too familiar when you do the work year in year out and it may be the client is in denial.
    Getting too involved in that area however isn't sensible for the lawyer or the client is it? So we tend to refer our clients on to people who can help them. We find that those clients who then do proceed, can then deal with the legal side in a much better frame of mind.
    I would recommend The Oakdale Group who practice all over the UK and who have helped a number of our clients.

  5. Thanks very much for that, Marilyn. We seem to be singing from the same hymn-sheet. (Not that I sing hymns, of course!)

  6. We should know how to refer them, based on the quality of where we're sending them but also their likelihood of following through. I've made it routine, when it looks like there's any chance the marriage is not over, to suggest they check out two directories we have in the U.S.: for marriage counseling and for marriage education classes.

  7. In answer to the question. No. Refer clients for councelling. They are better at it, and cheaper by the hour. Speaking from experience. Going to councelling is great fun, until it gets boring, and then you (I am) are better. Cathartic. Some times people need steeling. You can steer on the law, councellors can steer on the relationship advice.


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