What is collaborative law?
Collaborative law is a process for people to sort out their problems on relationship breakdown. Each of you appoints your own lawyer, but instead of conducting negotiations by letter or over the telephone, the discussions take place over a series of ‘four way meetings’.
Four way meetings involve both of you and each of your collaborative lawyers. Your collaborative lawyer will be there with you throughout the process to give you support and advice as you go along.
How does collaborative law work?
At the beginning of the process, all four of you sign an agreement called a “Participation Agreement”. This states that neither of you will issue proceedings.
Most importantly, if discussion break down, the collaborative process ends. If somebody goes to court unilaterally, both lawyers have to stop acting. This gives everybody involved an incentive to reach an agreement through collaborative discussion – including the lawyers!
What are the benefits of collaborative law?
Collaborative law is very different from the litigation or court process. It reduces hostility and encourages communication. Other benefits include:
- by working together, you reach an outcome that best suits the needs of the whole family
- your relationship with your partner tends to be improved because you are communicating directly – this is especially important where children are involved
- in collaborative law, it is more easy to identify quickly what the issues are and to sort them out – this saves time and is faster than writing letters or sorting things out over the telephone
- it avoids the expense of preparing for court, as well as the unpleasantness involved and the cost
- you can be more creative in finding out what the best solutions are by sitting round a table; you can listen to each other and be more constructive about what will work in practice
- the process is flexible, so you can meet as often as you need to – or otherwise
- with the help of your collaborative lawyer, you will be making the decisions yourselves – for both of you and for your family
What should I do first?
The best place to start is by looking at the website for Resolution. This gives information about how the collaborative process works in more detail. There is also a booklet prepared by Gillian Bishop which goes into this in greater detail. See the Collaborative Family Lawyers website. You can also search for a solicitor on the Law Society website.
How is collaborative law different?
The collaborative law process is not for everyone. It requires both of you to be open and honest, and to search for a fair solution for everybody.
If you want to get the very best possible deal for you, at the expense of your spouse or partner, then collaborative law is not for you. It is about putting to one side your partisan view and thinking about things differently – what is going to work for all members of the family, including your spouse or partner.
Is collaborative law suitable for everybody?
If you think that your spouse is not going to be straightforward, or may hide information, then collaborative law simply will not work. You have to trust each other.
Although it is possible to sort out difficult issues, you do need to go into the collaborative law process with an open mind. It is not just about getting the best deal for you and you alone. If you want that, it is better to ask a solicitor to negotiate hard on your behalf.
But if it is possible to sort things out in the collaborative law process, there are very considerable advantages.
Is collaborative law the cheapest method of sorting out problems?
Collaborative Law is probably not as cost effective as mediation. Because lawyers are involved at every stage, in the four way meetings and in the preparation, their hourly rate will build up fees quite quickly.
It may be possible to ask for a fixed fee for the collaborative process, or on a session by session basis. Most family lawyers are able to consider fixed fees for the collaborative law process in appropriate cases, check with your soliton first.
Collaborative Law will probably be far cheaper than going all the way through the courts. It may or not may be cheaper than solicitor to solicitor negotiation.
But the outcome may well be better – for all of you.
What should I consider next?
It is important to consider what outcome you wish to achieve from the process, particularly in complex cases that may involve children or finances. By doing some research and being more aware of your situation and your options, you are likely to feel more confident in what you want to work towards.