How does it work? Is it suitable for you?
Will a fair outcome be achieved? What are the advantages?
These were all questions I asked myself before undertaking the collaborative training.
I wondered whether I was the right ‘type’ to become a collaborative lawyer.
Having spent the last 10 years working tirelessly for each individual client to try to achieve the best outcome possible, tactically approaching cases in an environment where the person who fights the hardest sometimes gets what they want (even if it is not necessarily the fairest outcome); I questioned whether it was very ‘me’.
What I discovered was enlightening…
What does ‘collaborative law’ mean and how does it work?
Collaborative law is an alternative means of dispute resolution and can be used to resolve any aspect of family law from separation and financial matters to arrangements for children or a specific issue such as schooling. It can also be a very positive way of dealing with pre and post nuptial agreements in circumstances where there has been no breakdown and the couple wish to maintain a positive relationship.
The main positive of engaging in the collaborative process is that it allows parties’ to take control of managing their separation and allows them to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all involved whilst maintaining an amicable and positive relationship going forwards (which is particularly useful when you are both continuing to be parents). For non-separating couples who wish to resolve and issue it can help maintain their relationship and reach a resolution.
Collaborative law is conducted by way of round table meetings. Both parties’ meet with their solicitors separately to discuss any issues that need to be resolved and an agenda is agreed for each meeting.
Unlike mediation where the parties’ attend meetings on their own and the mediator cannot provide legal advice or direction, both parties’ have their own collaborative lawyer with them at every meeting. They can receive guidance and support throughout, along with legal advice on points of law, which may otherwise be delayed in being resolved.
The parties’ and their collaborative lawyers sign a participation agreement to confirm that they are committed to reaching a resolution of their matter amicably and that they will not go to court.
Would the collaborative process be suitable for you?
The collaborative approach is not for everyone. If there has been a complete breakdown in a relationship and there is no communication at all or there has been domestic abuse then the collaborative approach is not for you.
Alternatively, if there is a measure of communication between you (however limited) it is something that should be considered.
Will a fair outcome be achieved?
Although the collaborative process is more client-led than other forms of resolution, you will continue to receive legal advice from your solicitor throughout. Your solicitor will advise you about where you stand in terms of the legal position and the pros and cons of each option. This will liberate you to feel confident that you understand the options available and the pros and cons of each, allowing you to make informed decisions about how you wish to proceed.
The final decision is placed in the hands of those participating in the process, with an agreement only being reached if they are happy with it.
If you wish to pursue the collaborative process and your solicitor considers that it is unsuitable or that it is not in your best interests then they will advise you of this.
What are the advantages?
Collaborative law can open the lines of communication between you.
You will have control about the timing of resolving your matter. You will not have to wait for court dates or be reliant in communications via the traditional route of correspondence through solicitors which can be less timely.
It may be appropriate in cases where mediation is not and the benefit of ongoing legal advice during the meetings is required.
It is often cheaper as it cuts out unnecessary communications. A lot can be done in face to face meetings in a short space of time, which could take weeks in correspondence.
An agreement is reached that neither party will go to court when entering into the collaborative process. This encourages both parties’ to focus on reaching a resolution rather than going through a process.
All aspects of separation can be addressed during the meetings. These may be small but important things such as dealing with a handover or issue of timing which through face to face meetings, the tone of a communication can be easily read, which may be misinterpreted on paper and which may lead to animosity.
Many consider the process to be more dignified and respectful, allowing a positive relationship to be maintained afterwards, which is especially important where children are concerned or there are ongoing family ties.
Dealing with matters through collaborative law can often help with communication afterwards when the matter is concluded and solicitors are no longer involved.
My conclusion is that there is a place for collaborative law. It certainly is not appropriate for everyone, but for those who want to reach an agreement with as little stress and delay as possible and have some form of communication with the person with whom they need to reach an agreement, it is certainly something worth considering.
By Zoë Summers