Collaborative law is a way in which separating couples can resolve the issues relating to the breakdown of their relationship in a constructive, co-operative and amicable way by agreement. This is done in partnership with specially-trained, expert family lawyers who are sympathetic and approachable and help the parties reach an agreement in co-operation with each rather than in the traditional adversarial way.
Who are Collaborative Lawyers?
Collaborative lawyers are specially-trained, experienced family lawyers. In the UK, Collaborative Lawyers are trained and accredited by Resolution, the national association of family lawyers. They undergo a special training course and have to attend annual updates. They form networks of other Collaboratively-trained lawyers who they regularly work with and also other professionals including family consultants, mediators, financial advisers and relationship counsellors. Other professionals, such as accountants can be brought into the process and contribute to the discussions as required. They meet regularly to discuss their experiences and to provide each other with advice and support.
The aim is to avoid lengthy and acrimonious court proceedings which can be emotionally draining and damaging the couple, their children and any future relations they may have.
Collaborative Lawyers are members of Resolution and, therefore, subscribe to the Code of Conduct which requires them to deal with all family cases in a non-confrontational and constructive way, avoiding and discouraging inflammatory language or behaviour and using court proceedings as a last resort.
The training (which takes place over four days) is aimed at getting the lawyers to look differently at what each party wants and to come up with practical solutions which can benefit both parties and the children.
How does it work?
Collaborative law is a process which adopts a holistic approach to managing family breakdowns and the issues arising. The aim of the parties is to reach an agreement which is fair to both of them and their children (and, in some cases, wider family).
The process takes place by way of a series of four-way meetings and the lawyers work together to help the couple come to an agreement which deals with all the issues. Client’s benefit from the advice and support of their ‘own’ lawyer but all that advice is given in the open and the lawyers will help the parties reach a settlement which benefits the family as a whole. The aim is to avoid lengthy and acrimonious court proceedings which can be emotionally draining and damaging the couple, their children and any future relations they may have. It will, hopefully avoid the feeling that one party or the other (and in most cases, both) have been hard done to.
Collaborative law, like mediation, does not suit everyone, and is not likely to be appropriate where there has been domestic violence or one party is unwilling to be honest about their finances.
After the couple have instructed their respective Collaborative lawyers, and everyone has agreed to the Collaborative process, they will all be asked to sign the Participation Agreement, which the lawyers draw up. This document covers everything which will happen in the process, and what the parties’ expectations are. It will generally include the following:
- The couple should avoid going over the past and the events leading to the breakdown of the relationship and concentrate on the future;
- The needs of the children should be their priority in all discussions
- They should be completely transparent in all their discussions, whether this relates to the finances or the children;
- Their discussions will be aimed at trying to settle the case and cannot be brought up in any subsequent court proceedings;
- They will work together to reach an agreement which is fair to all concerned and will avoid going to court at all costs;
- All matters will be resolved in a series of ‘four-way meetings involving both of them and their respective lawyers, together in one room;
- If discussions break down, and court proceedings become necessary, the Collaborative lawyers must stop acting and the parties must instruct new lawyers who will not be a party to the discussions which have taken place.
The ‘four-way’ meetings are not designed to be confrontational. The lawyers and their clients will talk about what they each want and the lawyers will give balanced advice and look at the other side’s views rather than just advising what is in their own client’s interests.
The court is still used where parties have reached agreement, for example, in concluding a divorce where the grounds are agreed, or in order to put into effect a financial agreement.
What sort of cases can be dealt with in this way?
Collaborative law can be sued to help resolve most issues that arise within families, including:
- Divorce and related financial settlements;
- Separation agreements;
- Child arrangements, including disputes involving grandparents or others;
- Dissolution of Civil Partnerships or same sex marriages and financial issues;
- Financial settlements for children, including maintenance agreements
- Pre- and Post-Nuptial Agreements;
- Cohabitation and ‘Living Together’ agreements
Collaborative law, like mediation, does not suit everyone, and is not likely to be appropriate where there has been domestic violence or one party is unwilling to be honest about their finances. However, a properly trained Collaborative lawyer will be able to assess whether or not the process would be right for you and talk you through all the options.
What are the benefits?
Collaborative law works because the couple rather than the lawyers dictate what issues they want to discuss, the speed at which the process takes place and the way in which the matters are resolved, rather than the lawyers telling you how to settle. This allows the couple to focus on what is right for them, and their children and look at how they may wish to continue co-parenting their children or maintaining their relations with each other. If there are children involved, they may come across each other even after the children have left home such as when they attend weddings, christenings or family gatherings. They can agree on matters which would not normally be capable of being resolved through the courts and learn ways of better communicating with each other and reaching decisions jointly.
The lawyers can bring in other professionals for support, such as family consultants who carry out separate work with the parties to help them address the emotional issues that can arise when a marriage breaks down.
The lawyers involved are generally have a uniform approach to resolving family disputes, are experienced and have a mutual respect which allows them to work together, as well as ensure that their client is allowed a voice in the process. This is crucial to ensure that discussions take place in a calm, civilised and constructive way.
It is important to note that the process can be challenging for all involved and can bring up many different emotions and issues. The lawyers can bring in other professionals for support, such as family consultants who carry out separate work with the parties to help them address the emotional issues that can arise when a marriage breaks down.
At the end of the process both parties will, hopefully, end up with a solution that is fair to both of them, rather than one which has been forced on them by the courts and the lawyers. They should both be able to remain civil and friendly to each other and sort out any further problems without involving lawyers.
You can find out more about Collaborative Law on the Resolution website www.resolution.org.uk
Posted on January 25, 2018