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Having made one of the most difficult decisions in your life, it is easy to think that you have to choose the traditional “adversarial” option of engaging a solicitor to “fight” for your rights in order to “win” what you can get from the marriage. But there is another way!
A way which is far more dignified, fair and most importantly minimises the emotional trauma for all those involved.
Collaborative Law is a form of alternative dispute resolution for family issues such as divorce, finances and children arrangements. A settlement is reached in a non-confrontational way and without court involvement, based upon co-operation between parties through assistance from their collaboratively trained lawyers in round table meetings.
The cornerstone of the Collaborative model is that the couple agree to resolve their issues whether that be divorce, finances or child related or a combination of all three without going to court.
Both parties and solicitors sign a contract called a “Participation Agreement” formalising their resolution in favour of this route and their commitment to be bound by it. This is quite powerful as it ensures that both parties stick with the process and find ways of making progress even during periods where they may disagree with one another.
A series of meetings follow (as many as are required) where the issues are discussed until an agreement on those issues are reached. With the exception of financial disclosure, everything discussed and presented in these meetings is privileged and confidential, which encourages everyone to speak openly and transparently in order to try to find solutions which work for both parties. Should the process break down, neither party is permitted to refer to these discussions in any future court proceedings. This often results in accelerated conclusions being reached.
Whilst both Collaborative Law and Mediation are based on the principle of “negotiated settlement”, unlike Mediation, where both parties are in meetings conducted by a neutral mediator who cannot offer legal advice, Collaborative Law involves each party instructing their own collaboratively trained lawyer who is present in each session and able to offer advice as and when required.
There is full transparency with advice and thought spoken openly within the meetings. The lawyers prepare for each meeting with each other and with their respective clients. All meetings are conducted 4 ways and there is usually a post 4 way debrief between client and lawyer and then lawyer and lawyer.
Consequently, by comparison to mediation, the collaborative process requires more of the lawyers time and can be more expensive, but the potential cost difference is offset by the fact that it will be the lawyers who draft and agree the final version of court papers, having been part of the process from the outset which will reduce the chance of delays or misunderstandings occurring.
One of the advantages of this process is that it is not driven by a court imposed timetable. This means it can be built around the parties’ individual timetable and priorities. As a rule of thumb it can take between 5-6 meetings depending on the complexity of the issues and whether other professionals are required to assist the case.
Costs will largely depend on the issues, whether other professionals are required to assist and ultimately how many meetings are required to resolve the matter. Costs and how the process will be paid for are usually primary considerations discussed from the outset and also between lawyer/lawyer and at the initial 4 way meeting. The costs are usually greater than mediation but are comparable to that of the more traditional divorce/financial proceedings route but can be far quicker and are conducted in a far less confrontational way.
Although generally considered a healthier route to take with more successful long term outcomes reached consensually, collaborative law is not right for everyone. In cases where there is a history or allegations of domestic abuse, or where one party seeks to use the process for tactical purposes or to pressure the other party to agree to their proposals.
Sometimes the threat of having to dis-instruct your chosen lawyer can also be a disincentive to entering the process though equally having a binding contract can also be a strong incentive to stick to the process and find a way to reach a resolution to a particular matter rather than abandoning the process at the first sign of an impasse.
If you would like to know more about this process or feel this could be something you and your partner would benefit from, please contact Matt Clemence at [email protected] or telephone Ipswich 01473 213311 or Colchester 01206 584584, where Matt will be happy to speak with you.
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