The Collaborative Approach:
Questions and Answers

What is it?


Collaborative family law practice is a new child-friendly approach to manage the divorce and separation process in a dignified manner and to allow separating couples to work as a team with trained professionals to resolve disputes respectfully without going to court.
Each client has the support, protection and guidance of his or her own lawyer who may then enlist other experts, such as children specialists, counsellors, financial advisers or accountants as part of the divorce team.

How does it work?


Each of the parties agrees with their lawyer to resolve issues without going to court. Instead settlement is reached in a series of four way, face to face, meetings (two clients and two lawyers). All information and disclosure is provided in the collaborative process. The clients remain in control of the process but the lawyers are there throughout, for legal guidance and assistance. If no settlement can be reached, new lawyers will have to be instructed for court proceedings but it is likely that by engaging in open communication and information sharing, solutions are quickly created that take into account the highest priorities of both individuals and can be more creative than those handed down by a Judge at the end of a stressful and costly litigation process.

Why do we need it?

 
It is a fact that about half of all marriages end in divorce and many non marital relationships fail too. The emotional devastation that is often found alongside relationship breakdown does not have to follow. You cannot change the fact that divorce and separation happen but you can change the way it happens. The choice of process is fundamentally important. Collaborative practice seeks to change the approach couples adopt and the way in which they are represented by their legal team. It is designed to ease the heartache, minimise the hurt and reduce the loss of self esteem that all too often accompany relationship breakdown and are, all too often, found within our traditional legal process.
The process is based on mutual respect and dignity, with the couple seeking their outcome, supported by their professional team. Clients dictate the content and the agenda. The intention behind it is to allow the couple to find resolution with dignity and honesty and enable them to move on and build their new future.

Why choose it?


This approach is not for every client or indeed for every lawyer. The following important issues are worthy of note:

  • The process aims for a dignified, non-aggressive resolution to the issues;
  • If the case involves children, the parties can commit to keeping the children’s welfare at the centre of their discussion at all times;
  • You can reduce the trauma, animosity and hefty costs associated with contested  litigation;
  • You can keep open the possibility of friendship or a relationship with your partner going forward;
  • You and your partner may have extended family and a number of friends with whom you wish to remain in contact in the future;
  • You value retaining control over decisions about restructuring your financial arrangements ;
  • You do not wish to ‘hand over’ such decision making to either your lawyer or a Judge;
  • Your main aim in the process is not to seek revenge upon your partner.

What happens if the collaborative process breaks down?

 
When a couple embark upon the collaborative route, they and their lawyers sign a Participation Agreement which regulates the process. Part of this refers to the ‘no court agreement’. If either party withdraws from the process then the lawyers must also withdraw and both clients must find a new legal team to represent them in conventional litigation. This ‘no court agreement’ can represent the ‘glue’ which keeps couples focused on the process and the solutions when the ‘going gets tough’ (which can happen).

Can every case be dealt with collaboratively?

 
Very definitely not; the collaborative solution will work for couples who feel they can commit to an open and honest dialogue around a table, searching for shared solutions, with a willingness to compromise and to focus on the future and not the past. Couples are supported by their respective lawyers and the rest of their collaborative team but must be prepared to work hard together to find common ground, sometimes in difficult emotional circumstances.

What about cost?


The collaborative process should not be viewed as a cheap option, although it is likely to be significantly cheaper than fully contested litigation. Most of the cost arises at the four way meetings which can be lengthy. The solicitor’s time is charged on an hourly rate basis. The number of four way meetings needed will depend upon the complexity of the financial issues and the couple’s ability to work together around the table.

How long does it take?


The length of the process will vary considerably from case to case but the pace is a matter for the couple to decide. Meetings can be arranged in quick succession or can be more spaced out, if required. There is no court timetable to dictate the pace. Couples often view the speed of the process as a major advantage of the collaborative process.

Who is 'The collaborative team'?

 
The process often involves other professionals, working alongside the lawyers. An accountant, pension expert or financial adviser can be brought in to analyse finances, carry out valuations and explore beneficial settlement options. A counsellor can help individuals to address emotional issues and provide support alongside or within the meetings. Coaches can help parents to communicate and learn the skills of co-parenting following separation. Life coaches can help individuals to seek direction and plan their new future at the end of the process.
A team approach sounds expensive; in fact it can be more cost effective. The solicitors do not have some of the specialised skills and their hourly rates are often significantly higher than the rates of coaches and financial specialists. Using a ‘team’ of professionals could make the process cheaper.

 

 

The service is provided by a solicitor of England and Wales

VAT registration no. 920 9536 22

Maura Mckibbin Collaborative Solicitor and Mediator Limited, a company registered in England and Wales: company number 10068057: sole Director Maura Mckibbin (SRA registered number 629295) and their rules can be accessed at www.sra.org.uk/handbook/