Every client I see is unique and his/her experience of divorce or relationship breakdown will be different. But there are some things I hear again and again:
“Can’t you just sit down with (his/her) lawyer and sort something out for us?”
“If only (s/he) had said that is what (s/he) wanted at the beginning, we would have
saved a lot of heartache and all that money.”
Often, when I hear these comments it is already too late to give the correct response, which is – you should think about Collaborative Law.
Collaborative Law (note the uppercase “C”) is a different way of approaching the issues you have to address if your relationship breaks down, including the arrangements for your children, and your money. At its heart it consists in a series of meetings involving both of you and your lawyers. At the beginning we all sign an agreement which says, in essence, that, rather than trying to fight our own corners, we will discuss the situation in an adult way, and try to reach an agreed way forward. The agreement we sign also says that the lawyers will try to assist that process, rather than just advocating their respective clients’ positions.
If you really can't reach an agreed outcome through Collaborative Law then neither lawyer will become involved in any court proceedings, so if you want to go that way you will have to find other lawyers to do it. Collaborative Law meetings are “without prejudice” which means that nothing said in them can be directly referred to in court. These points are something of a formality because the success rate in Collaborative Law is very high indeed, and cases going on to court are virtually unheard of.
All Collaborative Lawyers are comparatively experienced family law specialists, and most of us know each other well. Usually, by combining our experience and listening very carefully, we can guide the parties to a sensible and mutually agreeable solution. Agreement almost always involves compromise, so you may not get everything you want in the end. But people who get involved in court proceedings seldom get everything they want either.
The Collaborative process is a good deal less destructive than court proceedings would be. How ever much the court encourages participants to be constructive and conciliatory, most people feel angrier with each other at the end of a court case than they did at the beginning. And then they have to find a way back from there and rebuild some sort of working relationship based on trust.
Particularly if you have children. Research has shown that the children of parents who get involved in court proceedings suffer from a much higher level of stress than one might imagine, whether the proceedings are about that child or about financial issues. That stress is always harmful and can have long term consequences. If nothing else, there will be weddings and other family events to go to, and hopefully, in due course grandchildren. Anger and resentment from court proceedings can linger from one generation to the next for decades, and divides families. Collaborative Law leaves separating couples much better equipped to work together constructively in teh future.
Collaborative Law is not for everyone. For example, if you really think that your husband/wife has hidden money or assets which s/he is not going to disclose to you, then Collaborative Law may not be for you. On the other hand there is plenty of opportunity to scrutinise his/her finances in the Collaborative process, and I suspect it is no easier to maintain a façade of deceit in a Collaborative Law meeting than it is in a court.
Collaborative Law is not a particularly cheap option. It will almost inevitably involve at least three or four meetings each lasting two or three hours, so the lawyers bills, inevitably, are going to be quite big. On the other hand, it is dramatically cheaper than getting involved in court proceedings, and infinitely more constructive.
If you think Collaborative Law might be appropriate for you, or if you have any questions about how it works, please ask me. Your husband/wife will also need to instruct a specialist family law solicitor who is an accredited Collaborative Lawyer. The Resolution website carries an up-to-date list of accredited Collaborative Lawyers and some useful literature.