What is the aim of Collaborative Family Law?

  • To assist you both in resolving all matters arising out of your separation in a dignified and respectful way for the benefit of the whole family.

What is Collaborative Family Law?

  • You and your partner retain separate, specially trained lawyers, who will assist you in resolving issues without going to court.
  • Your Collaborative Lawyer acts for you, providing legal advice and guidance throughout the process, but working with your partner and his/her lawyer as part of a team, to help achieve settlement.
  • You, your partner and your lawyers agree to work together in a respectful, honest and dignified way to try and reach settlement without threatening to go to court.
  • You sign an agreement disqualifying your Collaborative Lawyers from representing you at court if the collaboration process breaks down. Neither of the lawyers, or their respective firms, can then act for you - although they will still be bound by confidentiality about any negotiations which had occurred. You would need to instruct new lawyers to proceed to court.
  • Issues are discussed and hopefully resolved in 'four-way' face-to-face meetings between you, your partner and your lawyers. Settlement discussions take place in your presence, which helps ensure that you and your partner remain in charge of the process. The process thereby helps improve future communication: this is particularly important when you have children.

What is a four-way meeting?

  • A 'four-way' meeting is where you and your partner sit in a meeting with your Collaborative Lawyers to discuss the issues you wish to resolve.
  • An agenda is set before the meeting by your Collaborative Lawyers, taking into account the issues you both wish to discuss.
  • You and your partner have a duty of full and frank disclosure. You both provide all documents within the process.
  • Correspondence between lawyers is discouraged, thereby keeping costs and acrimony to a minimum.
  • Discussions focus on the needs and interests of you, your partner and any children.
  • Meetings are arranged at the start of the process, without you having to wait for court dates. Provided all the participants enter the process in good faith, the process is faster, cheaper and less acrimonious than the court proceedings to reach a resolution.
  • You and the lawyers can work as part of a group of professionals, including counsellors, mediators and child and financial specialists, to draw on the skills of other professionals to assist you and your partner in the process.
  • For issues requiring expert opinions (for example an accountant to give tax advice or value a business), the collaborative team will normally jointly instruct independent consultants, following discussions with you at the 'four-way' meeting.

Is Collaborative Family Law the best choice for me?

Collaborative Family Law is not for every client, or indeed every lawyer, but it is worth considering if some of the following are important to you:

  • You want a dignified, non-aggressive resolution of the issues.
  • You and your partner have children and wish to reach a resolution by agreements with their needs and interests being your priority.
  • You do not wish to incur the costs and animosity generated by court proceedings.
  • You would like to keep open, good relations with your partner in the future.
  • You and your partner have extended family and a number of friends, to whom you would both wish to remain in contact in the future.
  • You value retaining control over decisions about your financial arrangements or arrangements in relation to the children, but with advice from experts.
  • You do not wish to 'hand over' decision making to either your lawyer or to a court.
  • Your main aim in the process is not to 'seek revenge' on your partner.
  • You need the assistance of a lawyer to help you negotiate in face-to-face meetings.

What is the difference between Collaborative Law and mediation?

  • In mediation, the mediator is prohibited from giving either of you legal advice, and cannot assist you in advocating your position. A mediator is neutral.
  • The mediator is there to facilitate you and your partner, and has a duty to advise you each to take separate legal advice, either during the process, or after.
  • Any settlement discussed during mediation is only binding once each of you have had the opportunity of taking separate legal advice and have transferred the agreement into a separate consent order of the court. The mediator cannot prepare the court documents for you, nor finalise the process.
  • Provided Agreement is reached, your Collaborative Lawyer can act for you in the divorce, and prepare the court papers to obtain the consent order.
  • Lawyers are rarely present during the mediation sessions, and their advice may be given too late to assist in the process.
  • In Collaborative Family Law, you each have your own lawyer throughout the process advising you and advocating on your behalf. If you and your partner lack negotiation skills, financial understanding or feel vulnerable when in the sole presence of the other party, Collaborative Family Law could be preferable to mediation.
  • Mediators may still have a role in the collaborative process, if you and your partner wish to consult a mediator regarding an issue. Collaborative Lawyers can assist you in finding a suitable mediator.

What kind of information and documents do I have to provide in Collaborative Family Law negotiations?

  • You and your partner sign a participation agreement, which provides full and frank disclosure of all documents and information that relate to the issues. Disclosure is made at an early stage.

What happens if my partner/spouse does not give full and frank financial disclosure, or undertake the Collaborative Family Law process in good faith?

  • Under the terms of the collaborative agreement, the lawyer must withdraw from acting from their client if he/she has withheld or misrepresented information intentionally, or is participating in the process in bad faith. Likewise, it is open to your Collaborative Family Lawyer to advise you to withdraw from the process if they do not consider that your partner (or indeed their lawyer) is keeping to the terms of the agreement.
  • If you consider that your partner will not be honest during the collaborative process, then Collaborative Family Law is unlikely to be a good choice for you.

What if, some time after issuing a settlement agreement in the Collaborative Law process, I discover that my partner has failed to disclose relevant information?

  • The settlement agreement reached during the Collaborative Family Law process is no different from any other negotiated settlement. If the outcome of the settlement would have been different if the information had been available, then it is open to you to seek to overturn the agreement, even if it has been confirmed by a court order.

Why can't I go to court retaining my existing lawyers if my partner / spouse and I fail to reach an agreement?

  • The reason that Collaborative Family Law has been successful and developed (in other jurisdictions), is the fact that the lawyers are disqualified from acting for the client, should collaboration fail. The disqualification agreement means that all the parties, including the lawyers and clients, are attempting to achieve settlement without threatening or being subject to the threat of court proceedings when things become difficult.
  • You are collaborating without the background of potential court litigation, and lawyers are encouraged to work together in assisting you to reach settlement.
  • By agreeing at the outset not to go to court, your partner and the lawyers can be encouraged to reach creative settlements.