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Collaborative Law - Breaking up made easier

This article appeared in the October 2010 edition of Chic Lifestyle magazine.

Divorce can be a bitter and painful experience. The traditional divorce process can often be adversarial; which means that everyone involved, including the children, may come out of the other end emotionally damaged by what has gone on. But it no longer has to be that way.

A pioneering new way of getting divorced is starting to take hold in England after initially being developed in the USA and Canada. It’s called Collaborative Law, and it is a way to try and resolve issues following the breakdown of a relationship, including finances and children, by adopting a non-confrontational approach.

collaborative lawCollaborative Law is helpful in minimising the conflict which can arise between parties in a family dispute situation. The process means you will never be sat in a court room waiting for a Judge to decide your fate – you will retain control of the issues throughout.

Collaborative law is only suitable if both parties agree to go down this route. Both parties, as well as their specially trained Collaborative lawyers, sign an agreement confirming their commitment to reaching a settlement out of court. The lawyers involved also agree to disqualify themselves from court proceedings, should the process break down. This is an essential element as it means that clients and lawyers are focused on trying to facilitate an agreement using the Collaborative Law process. The whole process has been structured to maximise the chance of a successful settlement being reached and current research indicates a success rate of 85%.

The collaborative process is very different from traditional litigation and even from “round table” meetings. There is very little correspondence exchanged between solicitors. Instead matters are progressed by way of face to face negotiations with both parties and their respective collaborative lawyers, in what is known as “four way meetings.” Everyone is on first name terms and works together as a team until solutions are found which are acceptable to both clients and their lawyers.

At the end both parties sign a document agreeing to the settlement they have reached. A financial agreement is then filed in court for the Judge to approve in their absence where it will be converted into a binding consent order.

Clearly, Collaborative Law is not for everyone. It is only suitable in situations when both spouses have the willingness and ability to keep a level head and try to resolve the matter in a calm and non aggressive way.

Collaborative lawyers have received special training to help the individuals involved to try and see the bigger picture, including the effect a separation or divorce can have on children, and to help them to set realistic and achievable goals for negotiations.

Collaborative Law Q&A

How much does it cost?

Each of you will have your own specialist Collaborative lawyer and will therefore incur costs at that lawyer’s normal rate. The cost will depend on the time spent on the case, so will vary according to how quickly an agreement is reached. One of the benefits of using the Collaborative Law process is that it will remove some of the usual court costs involved with family disputes and may work out being more cost effective than the traditional legal process.

The issue of costs, and who pays what, may be one of the things which is raised during the four-way meetings.

How long does it take?

One of the benefits of the Collaborative Law process is that it is free from the usual court imposed timescales. The speed of the process is effectively set by the participants, so it can be much quicker than following the traditional legal process.

The timescale will of course depend on how quickly both parties provide information such as financial disclosure, and also their willingness to reach a compromise settlement.

What happens if we cannot agree?

If an agreement cannot be achieved then the Collaborative lawyers have to withdraw from the process. Both parties would then need to instruct new solicitors to act for them in the traditional court process. Collaborative lawyers must disqualify themselves from litigation, but this is usually what gels the process together and keeps everyone talking.

Documents such as financial disclosure information can still be used in ongoing proceedings but privileged discussions cannot.

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