What is Collaborative Law?
Collaborative law is an effective dispute resolution model which engages the unique problem solving skills of lawyers solely in service of achieving the best possible outcome for their clients. It was first introduced to the UK in 2003 – however it is, and has been, widely used in both the United States and Canada for many years. The ability of collaborative law to engage the most positive and creative problem-solving abilities of lawyers often astonishes and amazes clients. Our clients are supported by their collaborative lawyers to aim for reasonable, mutually respectful agreements, moving further away from the stigma attached to divorce-related disputes which ends in the court room. The process is conducted face to face – with all negotiations occurring in the presence of both parties.
Why Choose the Collaborative Model?
The collaborative approach offers a wide range of benefits over its court room alternative.
The dignified manner in which proceedings take place is perhaps the most significant of such benefits. The outcome, even at times, being referred to as a ‘friendly divorce’. This model encourages amicable relations between the parties, which is invaluable where children are concerned. This is because it ensures their welfare is prioritised above all else. Divorces are overwhelmingly regarded as negative experiences; however this is often caused by the manner in which people divorce. This alternative offers to minimise the inevitable distress which divorce brings, and seeks to promote positive, constructive relations.
Where proceedings in court are restricted by a timetable, the collaborative model offers much more flexibility. It recognises that each case is entirely unique, and so allows adequate time to be spent considering each relevant factor. As the parties themselves set the agenda for the process, it ensures the time is spent both effectively and efficiency.
Divorce proceedings may be seen by many as a litigious gamble - as ultimately the sheriff has the final say over matters. However, this alternative firmly places the outcome within the control of the parties – with negotiations, rather than a sheriff, concluding on matters.
Only as many meetings as are needed will occur. This guarantees a cost effective means of resolving disputes, without resorting to litigation which is more costly and time consuming.
The Collaborative Law process
Before the collaborative meetings (occasionally referred to as ‘four way’ meetings) may officially begin by each party consulting their respective lawyer. During this consultation, what can be expected from this process will be discussed, and will conclude with a decision on whether this is an appropriate option in regards to the circumstances at hand. The two lawyers will then arrange the most suitable time for the first of the meetings to take place.
Upon meeting for the first time, the lawyers will ensure each party fully understands that they are committing to resolving the issue out with court. This commitment will be guaranteed by the signing of a ‘collaborative agreement’ between all four persons. Following this, each party will put forward the objectives they hope to reach from this process, and the agenda for the following meeting shall be briefly arranged. Where relevant, the parties will agree as to the logistics of sharing information, including who shall bring certain information forward.
Subsequent Meetings (If required)
In the following meeting(s) any certain concerns will be dealt with, and issues agreed to be considered in the agenda will be discussed.
Depending on the characteristics of the dispute, experts may be brought forward. This most commonly occurs in relation to financial matters (i.e. pensions and financial planning) and matters relating to helping children in light of drastic change in their family life.
Any agreements reached throughout the process will be put into writing by the lawyers prior to the meeting. The agreement will then be signed by all four persons. Where required, the final agreement will be enforced by way of a court order; presenting the authority of the court backing the agreement, without the formalities and other more negative aspects of court.
Collaborative Law is a voluntary process which advocates the use of direct communication between parties to encourage more positive results when dealing with the breakdown of a marriage or a separation. Our solicitors, Mary Nimmo and Karen Cowan are accredited Collaborative Family Lawyers and offer counselling services for those who wish to use this alternative dispute resolution model. For more information, please contact our Court Department to arrange a free 10 minute consultation.