What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law is a radical and effective approach to dispute resolution.Each person appoints their own lawyer but instead of conducting negotiations between the parties by letter or phone, the parties themselves meet, together with their lawyers, to work things out face to face.

Each party has their lawyer by their side throughout the entire process and will therefore benefit from legal advice as matters progress. The aim of collaborative law is to resolve family disputes without going to court.

Underpinning the whole collaborative process is the “participation agreement” where the couple commit themselves to the process. The agreement will set out the basic rules of the collaborative process, one of the most important being that if either party commences court proceedings, both lawyers must cease to act and the parties must find new lawyers to act for them in court proceedings.

The participation agreement embodies another fundamental principle; that both the couple themselves and their respective lawyers will act in good faith throughout the process.

Having established the ground rules, the parties set out their objectives in an anchor statement. This is a very useful document. Inevitably, differences will arise during negotiations and it is helpful to remind parties of their objectives which, more often than not, are shared.

The process of negotiation involves “4-way meetings” where the couple and their lawyers meet to discuss the issues arising upon the breakdown of the relationship. Having all the parties present in the meeting allows the couple to retain control of the process and work towards a solution that is best suited for their own unique circumstances.

Ratherthan taking an adversarial or confrontational approach, the emphasis is on solving problems. The lawyers work together to achieve this. Often other neutral experts are brought into the process to assist the couple, such as an independent accountant or financial adviser.

Notes are taken at each meeting and a list of actions to be taken before the next meeting is agreed. The parties will “debrief” with their own lawyer, reviewing issues discussed as well as issues to be discussed at the next meeting.

The process is fairly streamlined as there are no letters to pass back and forth between the lawyers.

The process will involve as many meetings as is necessary to achieve agreement. Usually, this will involve about four meetings, but each relationship and family is different.

Once an agreement is achieved, the lawyers draw it up into a document which is then sent to the court for judicial approval. The courts are very supportive of the collaborative process and have provided a streamlined process to approve agreements.

The collaborative process is growing organically due to its own success. Couples find that the process allows them to retain control of negotiations and deal with the issues that have arisen with dignity. Where there are children this is particularly important as though the marriage may have ended, the family has not.

More information can be found at www.resolution.org.uk


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