This month, Resolution will be celebrating The Good Divorce Week with the focus on collaborative law. What is this and how can a divorce be described as “good” by family lawyers?
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some marriages and partnerships will come to an end. How can couples move on from relationship breakdown with positive feelings? How can conflict – about money, about children – be minimised?
If I could say one thing, and one thing only, to help people mend the pain of relationship breakdown, and to translate the inevitable hurt feelings into something a lot more positive, I would say “try collaborative law”.
Did you know that collaborative law involves you and your ex, and both of your solicitors, signing an agreement that no one will issue court proceedings? This means that all of you, solicitors included, are totally committed to finding a solution. Any approach which avoids going to court has got to be good.
So how does collaborative law work? The principle is that the four of you, that’s you, your ex, and both of your solicitors, will have a series of meetings, usually three or four, and these will be organised and will proceed at a pace which is right for you. Your solicitor will be there to advise you in meetings and can communicate on your behalf with your ex and their solicitor if you don’t feel up to engaging directly yourself.
Some couple also find it useful to work through the collaborative process with a family consultant, usually a counsellor or life coach to support you individually and collectively both inside and outside the meetings.
The first point to make is of course that if you can reach a final agreement over a series of three or four meetings over a period of months, you will have saved yourself a great deal of time. Court proceedings can take much longer, a year or more sometimes.
At the first meeting you may all sign the collaborative law participation agreement. No one is going to issue court proceedings, and if they do, both of you will have to find new solicitors as the solicitors appointed to act in the collaborative process can’t continue.. You also agree to be respectful to each other and to give transparent financial disclosure, which means you will both have to provide details and documents proving all your income and assets. This disclosure is required whenever matrimonial finances are addressed – whether this be in negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, or court.
You agree the agenda for the second meeting. This will be the issues that are important to each of you. Every family is different and this is your opportunity to say what you want to achieve. Typically the agenda will include how the family home will be dealt with. If there are children it might be that they’re finding it difficult to adjust to the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. A priority can be exploring how to ease the transition for them.
It’s possible to involve other experts, such as pension specialists or financial experts who can advise on the valuation of your assets.
There’s an orderly and honest exchange of financial information at the second meeting, the focus still on what the couple want to achieve.
At the third meeting typically all the cards are put on the table. Individual priorities are known; the facts and figures are at your finger tips; you both have your solicitors there to advise and support you to find a solution that you can both agree to.
If not at the third meeting, then typically at the fourth meeting a final solution is agreed. There’s been compromise on both sides, possibly even a few tears, but you’ve achieved what seemed like the impossible by communicating and ultimately agreeing with your ex. You’ve laid the foundation for moving on with your life and putting all the heartbreak behind you. Who knows, you might even be able to be friends. You will certainly be in a stronger position to co-parent successfully.
You have been an active participant in the decision making process – far more empowering and healing than leaving it to a Judge to decide. And unlike mediation you (and your ex) have received on the spot advice throughout the process, and your solicitor has been with you to communicate on your behalf if you haven’t felt you wanted to engage directly with your ex.
In the court process there’s only a limited selection of orders that can be made. But in collaborative law, personal tailoring is possible, unique agreements can be reached. When you and your ex decide what’s best for your particular family, you can make agreements not generally available in court proceedings. You can agree the nuts and bolts of how you’re going to co-parent your children, where they’re going to live on a day to day basis, how you’re going to coordinate your care of them, how their individual needs can be met.
If you’re able to talk all this through – the property, the money, the children, the routine of co-parenting – then it makes it more likely that you will be able to continue being a family, a different family of course, but a family none the less, with two parents who work together in the interests of their children.
As you will have made the transition with little acrimony and are moving on with your lives separately but positively, there will be no need for your extended families and friends to take sides. You won’t dread your child’s wedding day, wondering how you and your ex will be able to sit at the top table together, let alone in the same room. You will still be a functioning family.
Collaborative law is the way to move through and forward positively from the breakdown of your relationship. It’s the Good Divorce.
Wouldn’t you agree that any approach which avoids going to court has got to be good? If you have an opinion about collaborative law, please do share your comment with us, we would like to hear from you.