Collaborative law can provide a much more streamlined, non-confrontational and cost-effective way to resolve issues. It’s based on everyone agreeing – the two parties and both lawyers – in writing, not to go to court and forms a useful alternative to costly litigation. The lawyers are disqualified from being able to act for either party in the event of the process breaking down. This adds another incentive to make it work, to avoid the expense of hiring new lawyers and starting all over again.
It is used especially to resolve family disputes, like divorce and arrangements about finances following a divorce and what to do with the children. It is an alternative to the mediation process, which usually only uses one neutral mediator instead of two. With collaborative law, both sides have their own lawyer to advise them.
By signing a voluntary ‘participation agreement’, both sides commit to the process and work with their lawyers, who are disqualified from acting for either party in an future family related legal proceedings.
It can be used to resolve not just divorce, but a wide range of family-related matters including disputes between parents over child custody, and pre- and post- marital contracts. Collaborating only works however, when both parties have solicitors who are trained in collaborative law.
How does it work?
To reach agreement, the collaborative law process works in the following way:
- Each of you hires your own lawyer. You then meet with your lawyer to give them instruction and to discuss what you hope the outcome will be following the four-way collaborative meetings.
- Along with your lawyers, you both meet in the first of your collaborative meetings during which the lawyers will ensure that you both understand the process and commitment needed by both of you to reach a resolution which avoids you having to go to court.
- You and your lawyers sign an agreement to this effect. Your lawyers will not be able to represent you in any way in court, should the collaborative process break down.
- Further four-way meetings take place until you both reach agreement. Usually meeting at the office of one of the lawyers or maybe taking turns at either of the lawyer’s offices, issues are discussed over a series of meetings.
- Except for financial disclosure, the discussions in the meetings are privileged and confidential. If the process breaks down at any time, neither party can disclose anything that was discussed in court.
- Once agreement has been reached, the lawyers draft up a final agreement.
- In a final meeting, documents detailing what you have agreed can be signed.
- Once this has been signed, this is sent to the court.
Advantages of Collaborative Law
The advantage of the collaborative approach over mediation, a similar process but usually involving just one lawyer, is that it can be a lot quicker. Both the lawyers who have drafted the final court papers have been part of the process right from the start, so they understand how you have reached your agreement.
Collaborative law works well when both parties are committed and can work together. Where there is a risk of bullying or domestic violence, then the process tends not to be so successful.
Collaborative law has become an important option for resolving family disputes. Collaborative lawyers in England and Wales are trained and accredited by a family lawyers’ organization called Resolution and up to a third of English family lawyers are now trained in collaborative law. Formerly known as the Solicitors’ Family Law Association, this organization is comprised of over 6,500 lawyers in England and Wales.
If you are looking for a collaborative law firm in the UK try SA Law – Collaborative.
Image Credits: Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and Aidan Jones.