Going to court is not the only option for couples going through the divorce process and seeking to resolve any financial issues. Another, often less known about option is the collaborative law process.
What is collaborative law?
Traditionally when couples split, they both take independent legal advice from lawyers. Then, working through their lawyers, they try to reach agreement and settle their differences in respect of issues such as the child arrangements, or the matrimonial finances.
Often parties are able to reach agreement in this way, but sometimes the process can become very adversarial and difficult - the parties become entrenched in their positions, and expensive court proceedings may become necessary.
The collaborative process offers an alternative way of doing things. Both parties appoint their own lawyer, but instead of conducting negotiations through their solicitors, they do it with their solicitors in a series of face-to-face meetings.
These meetings involve both parties and their chosen collaborative lawyers. Your lawyer will be there with you throughout the process to give you support and advice as you go along. When necessary, other professionals can be brought in to assist (e.g. financial advisers), and the idea is that as far as possible everybody works together constructively to find a solution that works for both parties.
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 discussions 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?
Collaborative law is very different from litigation and the 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 easier 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.
- with the help of your collaborative lawyer, you will be making the decisions yourselves - for both of you and for your family.
Is collaborative law for everyone?
If you think that your spouse is not going to be straightforward, or may hide information, then collaborative law may 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.
Working things out between yourselves is nearly always the best thing for your separating families.
Are you a good candidate for a collaborative divorce?
The only requirement is a willingness to work towards a mutually beneficial solution.
The process is easiest for spouses who are already amicable.
For more information on collaborative law or to speak to a member of our Family Law team call 01926 354704 or email carlineG@moore-tibbits.co.uk