Individuals in their daily lives are now focusing more than ever on their carbon footprint as they strive to fight climate change. Studies have looked at the effects of separation and divorce or civil partnership dissolution on the environment - one home turning to two, which means more water electricity consumption, and additional travel if parents are moving around the country (or further afield) to spend time with children. The reality is that relationships will continue to break down and people will continue to separate. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that your divorce can't be 'green'.
Below are some ways in which the divorce process can be more environmentally friendly.
1. A 'green' divorce: Embracing technology for meetings
Prior to the pandemic, an initial meeting with a lawyer typically meant a trip into the lawyers' office which often meant a commute into town for the client (and of course for the lawyer themselves). During the pandemic, lawyers adjusted their practices and were able to take their clients' instructions remotely, still complying with their professional regulations, by conducting video call meetings. Although the importance of human contact in family cases can’t be understated and many clients will want to meet their lawyer in person at least once, virtual meetings can save time, money and reduce our carbon footprint and will certainly continue to be an option for clients, whether or not there is a restriction on face-to-face meeting.
2. A 'green' divorce: Using electronic documents
Previously lawyers and clients were accustomed to preparing sometimes vast bundles of 'vouching' (bank statements, valuations and the like) which were then exchanged with their spouse's or partner's lawyer. Written correspondence would often be sent back and forth ("snail mail").
If a divorce was litigated in court, boxes of papers would need to be sent up to court for consideration by the Judge or Sheriff.
Now, in terms of paperwork, the vast majority of documents can be created, signed and exchanged completely electronically, with obvious environmental benefit.
3. A 'green' divorce: Remote court hearings
It used to be the default that any joint meeting or court hearings would require all parties to be in one place i.e. the court or at a central meeting point. This would involve all parties travelling to the court, or to an office either by car or train.
Courts are functioning very well remotely, via video call (WebEx) and telephone hearings. There are proposals for many of the temporary legislative measures that came about as a result of the pandemic to be made permanent.
4. A 'green' divorce: Two of everything?
When couples with young children separate, it can be particularly challenging. Children may end up with two sets of most items i.e. a set at either parent's home. This is sometimes unavoidable when what was formerly one household, becomes two. However, some parents choose to share items where they can. For some couples, 'bird nesting' is an option. Although operating three separate households, your children are able to have all their belongings in once place, mitigating the need for two of everything.
For families that are making decisions about how life will operate following separation, whether their new way of living will be 'green' or not may not be top of the priorities list. However, sustainability is increasingly becoming an essential part of every agenda and new technologies mean that even the way you separate or divorce can have a neutral impact on the environment.
This is the first instalment in our Green Family Law series. You can read our second instalment, Under the same green roof- cohabiting with your partner here.