So, who are “Family Law Cafe”?
We are Joanna Toch, a family law barrister and founder of Familylawcafe.co.uk, Carol Horner, formerly in retail management and Head of Operations, Peter Tahany, a former solicitor and investment specialist, Geraint Owen, formerly in advertising and design, Head of Marketing. We have Kadan who assists with day to day work on the case spaces for our customers and Zoe who assists customers with case space queries.
How did the Family Law Café “happen”? How did you all meet? What’s the story behind FLC?
In 2012 Joanna began to work on creating a new way of working within the family law system, designing it to be user friendly and centring it on what the public needed rather than what those working in the legal system such as Judges, solicitors and barristers needed.
She pitched the idea to Peter, a friend from University, who saw there was a gap for a system that could work online around people’s needs. Joanna met Carol on the night before her local supermarket was closing – she chatted to Carol and decided she had the retail skills to talk to the public about what they might want to “buy” as legal services and convinced her to come in and head up Operations.
Geraint was also at University with Joanna and Peter and then went to the USA working in advertising and design there. He has recently been asked to give his design thinking to the team.
Zoe and Kadan have come on board as we have got bigger and busier.
Tell me more about Family Law Cafe and why you founded the business?
It is a re-thinking of how services are provided. Joanna went to the Olympics at age 18 and as a 22 year old and has won multiple rowing events. In her view, an outcomes based approach is as useful in family law as it is in sport. She set out to provide a platform where anyone facing a family law problem can obtain a strategic analysis, have all of their documents safely stored in one place, can access expert and practical support and have real input into how their matter moves forward.
What makes Family Law Café unique?
It is based around the customer’s needs and not the lawyer’s needs. It is not reactive, it is proactive. Everything you need to get a good outcome is provided at a cost that you can manage.
How does the Family Law Café work?
The problem is assessed after an initial enquiry and chat. We say what we see as a way of moving forward. We give a fee for 6 months support and this can be paid upfront or monthly. If the case is ongoing after that we agree an extension fee.
The customer is provided with a secure online portal called a case space which they can access via a smartphone, tablet or laptop. They can upload and download documents there so they don’t need to have any documents by hard copy. The documents section is fully searchable. They use the platform to access mentoring and strategy. There is a calendar for all the important dates. There is telephone support as necessary for non-legal queries. The customer is assisted to do as much as they can on their own to keep their costs manageable.
If an expert is needed then a solicitor, barrister, mediator, financial specialist is invited to work with the customer on the platform and we assist to negotiate the fee as needed and, if the platform is used, the customer pays a percentage fee so that all the work is done there. It means the customer has access to advice and assistance all online.
Do I need to be really tech savvy to use your system?
No, just as you don’t need to be a mechanic to dive a car, you do not have to understand the tech to use the case space. We have designed it at the level of being able to use Facebook. You can use it quickly and simply via your phone, laptop or tablet.
If you do have a problem, you can phone Carol and her team.
Can a couple use Family Law Café “together”?
If each part of the couple wants to use Family Law Cafe, they can use their own case space. This would need careful discussion about privacy settings and accessibility to ensure that each person using their respective case space received support for themselves and strict privacy as to advice was maintained.
We would not suggest a couple used a case space jointly unless, after informed consent, they wanted to use it with a stated common aim eg a couple may have resolved all of their children issues and decide to use a case space as a communications tool only.
How do you deal with child arrangement matters?
We assist a lot of people with child arrangement matters. Firstly, we find out where they have got to and what they are aiming for, we give them the options as to how to resolve matters which could be direct discussion, mediation, getting a solicitor to write letters or an application to the court.
We help with how the forms are to be completed or responded to and submitted, the sort of points the Cafcass officer will need to know about any safeguarding issues, finding representation when it is needed and assisting as to what a position statement should cover. We support them when there are upsets and changes along the way and stay with them during what can often be a long and complex and emotionally demanding process.
Is the whole idea to keep couples out of court?
In family cases there is no “one-size fits all”. If it is possible to keep a matter out of court we will always assist as to the ways that can happen. Sometimes the matter is already in court and sometimes there is no other way than the case going to court. There are so many options in family law matters and what we try to do is give information about all those options and what they may achieve.
What is tough for people is that they can put their trust in very good individuals but that person may not be the best choice for the type of case, for example, the collaborative approach can be a great idea, however in some cases it can work badly, for example if one party is dominating and unable to work in a collaborative way.
Do some couples still end up in Court? What happens then?
Because people come to us when they really need help, often having tried other ways of dealing with their family problem the case can already be in court or going that way. Think of us standing at A&E and triaging! We have the inside knowledge as to how court proceedings work and we can help with the process in what can be an extremely frightening and disorientating time. Although we cannot change the family law system, we can at least explain it so that people know roughly what to expect and can thereby have a bit more control.
So, say I want to get a divorce, if I approach Family Law Café – what happens next?
We would check that you have thought carefully and what support you already have in place. We would find out if you just wanted a divorce or if there were financial issues and if there were children issues. We triage you to see what help you are likely to need. Once we establish that we would let you know what level of support we think you will need and agree a fee for 6 months support and access to the case space which can be paid monthly.
If you want to come on board with us, you would make your first payment and we would set up your case space. If you had documents eg a letter from a solicitor sent to you then we would show you how to upload your documents. You would then have a phone call to work out strategy and whether you wanted to use any experts at this stage and your initial strategy document would be put on the case space.
We then help you do what you can online and bring in experts to assist you as required and provide mentoring and support on the case space. For example, you may choose to use the government online divorce service and do the divorce petition yourself and we would support you in how that is done. You may want to use mediation for the finances and we would suggest mediators suitable to use. You may need to get straight into court and we would assist you with completing the forms and suggest experts where they can add value eg offers of settlement, court hearings. You have control because you decide what is useful and cost-effective.
What happens if one party suspects the other is not being truthful? Not disclosing assets etc?
Family law has an answer to all problems, you just need to know where to find it. Everyone is entitled to free and frank disclosure. The benefit of having a mentor online is that in that situation you will get the backing and help to take whatever action is needed – this might be a request or a court application, you may be able to do it yourself or be advised to bring in a solicitor or barrister to help with a court application. We offer flexibility – you pay for what you need.
How do I understand what I should be entitled to? Do you have a “target” for me to aim for?
If you use Family Law Cafe you may want to “buy in” a specialised advice for your particular situation or have a conference with an expert. The underlying principle of family law orders is that they are fair. You can ask for the assistance you need online in order that you are informed as to what ‘fair” would look like objectively in your situation.
Do you have a success story for us? Or a great review?
Almost all of our customers are very happy with what we do. It is stressful work but that is a huge reward for us.
One of the nicest things we heard was a customer saying that what he liked about the children order he got was that the mother was really happy too.
We have many customers who have kept their house when they did not think that was possible.
What we do is make people think about the money they are spending and make wise decisions. Sometimes cases take a while to get to an outcome, but we usually get there in the end. What we find sad is the people that come to us having spent huge amounts of money already and not got anywhere.
Have a look at the videos on our website – they are our actual customers and they are very happy and were willing to come on screen to say that.
Do you ever have couples who are really at war? How do you deal with that?
We deal with whatever comes to us and without judgment. People are often in pain and there are often misunderstandings. We try to simplify and keep things moving and keep our customers focused on objectives. We do not exist to provide people with stories about how much they spent on doing the other over. We feel that by providing an understanding ear our customers realise there is little to be gained by further conflict.
Can someone have a chat with your team before committing?
Of course! Give us a call or send a message through our website and have a chat – there is no obligation. We only want to work with people who understand what we are about and how we can help them.
If a person has a problem or a legal question, who can they speak to?
All of the assistance is on the case space online and this is backed up by a telephone service if you need a voice to talk to. We mentor and assist on the case space eg completing forms, providing information as to how a court would decide an issue eg the test for maintenance pending suit, the factors the court will consider in making a child order and we deal with the day to day aspects of the case eg should you try a mediator, do you need to apply to the court? If there is a specific legal piece of work you need then we find the best person to provide that to you on the case space and you buy in what you need.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for giving us the chance to explain what we do. Come and have a chat with us. We are here to help!