Whilst family mediation has had significant backing from the Government, Collaborative Law has remained less well-known. It does however, provide a constructive, dignified and supportive forum for couples to address and resolve the important issues which arise on divorce or separation.
I trained as a Collaborative Lawyer in 2008 and have assisted many clients since then to address the difficult tasks of reaching a financial settlement and sorting out the arrangements for the care of their children. On each occasion, I have witnessed how effective the Collaborative model is in helping couples at one of the most difficult times of their lives. I also represent clients in Court litigation and so I am aware of how uncertain the outcome can be if it is left to a Judge to decide and therefore how much more control the couple has on their futures if they choose to collaborate.
So what is Collaborative Law? The process involves both the couple and their respective Collaborative Lawyers signing an agreement at the outset which confirms they will not go to Court to resolve the issues between them. This “Participation Agreement” sets out that everyone will treat each other with respect, will be open, transparent and honest about their intentions and provide full and frank financial disclosure. By removing the spectre of the Court from the discussions, the couple can focus on reaching a mutually appropriate settlement. There’s no “easy” option of walking out of the door and heading to Court. For the lawyers too, there is a real sense of needing to think constructively and practically about the couple’s options, rather than resorting to a Judge’s view if things get too hard.
If the process breaks down, the Participation Agreement dictates that the couple need to instruct new lawyers to help them through the Court process. Everyone is therefore committed at the outset to making the process work and to achieving a fair and reasonable outcome for the couple. Of all of the Collaborative cases I have done, none have broken down. This is down to a combination of hard work by the couple and the two lawyers in keep discussions moving forward. There is a significant amount of trust placed in the lawyers by the couple to guide them and advise them through the process and therefore, unlike the perhaps traditional model of the two lawyers pulling in opposite directions, Collaborative “colleagues” (rather than opponents) work together for the good of the couple, whilst of course only advising their own client. Any separation or divorce will be difficult but the support offered by the Collaborative process gives couples the best chance of remaining able to communicate, which is particularly important where there are children to consider.
Gloucestershire has a number of specially trained lawyers, who can assist clients with their separation or divorce using the Collaborative model. We also work with a number of financial advisors who can help couples understand their options for their pensions, mortgages and with general financial planning. The advisors will offer support to the couple in an unbiased way to assist the discussions. It’s this interdisciplinary approach, where advisors from many disciplines work together, which really gives the Collaborative process the best chance of success.