Brownlee v Brownlee: A case study 

A recent court case emphasised the importance of mediation in family law matters and may set a precedent for the divorce process. The judgement handed down by Acting Judge Brassey in the South Gauteng High Court (Brownlee v Brownlee: 2008/25274) emphasised the duty of parties to attempt to mediate a dispute and the obligation of the respective attorneys to encourage their clients to mediate the resolution of their dispute prior to embarking on litigation and facing the delays and expense of running a trial. The judgment emphasised and extolled the virtues of mediation and also capped the fees of the attorneys on both sides because they had failed to advise their clients to attempt mediation at an early stage. The judge expressed his disapproval of the parties’ conduct by making each party bear his or her own costs:

“How much richer would this solution have been had it emerged out of a consensus-seeking process rather than in adversarial proceedings in which positions were taken up that gave every appearance of callousness and cruelty. This is but an instance of what mediation might have achieved. In fact, the benefits go well beyond it. In the process of mediation, the parties would have had ample scope for an informed but informal debate on the levels of their estates, the amount of their incomes and the extent of their living costs. Nudged by a facilitative intermediary, I have little doubt that they would have been able to solve most of the monetary disputes that stood between them. The saving in time and legal costs would have been significant and, once a few breakthroughs had been made, I have every reason to believe that an overall solution would have been reached.”– (Brownlee v Brownlee August 2009: South Africa, South Gauteng High Court,)