By Justine Soper, JLS Solicitors
Collaborative law is one of the dispute resolution routes that a separating or divorcing couple can take. Its aim is to enable direct discussions to take place and to avoid the stress and anxiety of Court.
The couple each instruct a collaboratively trained lawyer; and all 4 participants to the collaborative process sign an Agreement which confirms their commitment to dealing with the issues arising from the couple’s separation by way of discussion and negotiation rather than in Court – in other words, in a constructive and dignified way. That commitment is fundamental to the process, and is underpinned by an agreement that if either of the couple wants to come out of the collaborative process, then both collaborative lawyers must be dis-instructed and new lawyers found. The collaborative lawyers can only act where all matters are being pursued consensually.
All discussions take place at 4-way meetings, that is with the couple and both lawyers. In comparison to my “usual” files, there is a marked reduction in the level of letters and emails written when I am dealing with a collaborative case. Everyone is encouraged to take part, so the lawyers don’t do all the talking (for a change!). Whilst the lawyers are of course there for their client, they are also there to work with the other collaborative lawyer and the other person. Constructive dialogue is pursued, and all options considered for both parties – the key to the process is working together to reach an agreement on all the issues arising from their separation, so it can be used to deal with parenting arrangements, financial issues, how to pursue the divorce process, interim financial arrangements, and so on.
The other advantages to the collaborative process are that with the lawyers involved in each meeting, legal advice is “on tap” throughout; and also if needed, a team of other professionals can be called upon to assist. For example, Accountants to help the couple consider the value of a business, or if changes are needed to a family business as a result of the separation; Financial Advisors to help consideration of pension issues, or other investment matters; or Family Consultants, who can assist one or both of the couple from a therapeutic standpoint to deal with the divorce or separation and the collaborative meetings.
The number of meetings needed is dependent on the nature of the issues to be resolved, and the complexity of the couple’s circumstances. On average, however, around 3 or 4 meetings are likely. The aim for the final meeting would be to go over documents drawn up by the lawyers which set out the terms of agreement reached.