Cristina Court

Associate

Family and Matrimonial


Easing the Pain of Family Breakdown - Collaborative Law

Cristina Court

Collaborative family law is a civilised non-confrontational approach to resolving issues arising out of family or relationship breakdown (including co-habiting and civil partnership breakdown). It offers parties a genuinely new and for some an improved way to find solutions.

The collaborative process is based on your and your partner working with specially trained collaborative lawyers. The clients and lawyers work together in a series of meetings to find a fair and mutually acceptable solution. It is a good option for people who want to retain control over their affairs and avoid the uncertainties of a Court based system.

How does it work?

  • All parties at the outset agree to be open, honest, respectful, co-operative and work together to find an amicable solution.
  • All parties sign a "participation agreement" committing to this process and agreeing not to issue Court proceedings.
  • Parties are encouraged to find and consider creative solutions suitable for family circumstances.
  • The majority of communication is via a series of meetings between the clients and their respective lawyers.
  • Full and frank disclosure is exchanged and negotiations entered into during a series of meetings.
  • You can also retain a team of professionals such as Divorce Coach, Financial Professionals to assist you in finding solutions.

What are the advantages of using collaborative process?

  • You set the agenda and therefore retain control of the process.
  • You work at your own pace and do not need to wait for Court dates.
  • Communication between parties is often improved and you can preserve family relationships.

Collaborative Law Case Study

I was contacted by Mr X who had been married for nearly 30 years with 2 children, only one dependant. He was running a successful business, working long hours. His wife was in part-time employment.

They had drifted apart and when attempting to communicate between themselves as to the way forward it always ended up in an argument.

Both Mr and Mrs X accepted that they could not continue to live together but they oscillated between whether they should take the major step of divorce, just go through separation or not do anything at all.

At the first meeting I discussed the options available to him and his wife to address their difficulties:

  • 1. Going through the conventional method of instructing a solicitor to write to the other side for their proposals and/or forward his proposals to them.
  • 2. That I could refer them to see a Mediator who would facilitate discussions with an aim to reach and agreement as to their relationship and the division of the finances;
  • 3. That I could represent him as a Collaborative Lawyer whereby his wife would also need to consult a Collaborative Lawyer. WE would all then meet and discuss the issues with the sole purpose of sharing information and working together to resolve the disputes.

He took all the information and contacted me a few weeks later informing me that his wife had also consulted a Collaborative Lawyer.

Within days of the first meeting with Mr X I had a telephone call from the wife"s Collaborative Lawyer and we set up our first four-way meeting.

At the first meeting we went through the Participation Agreement and ascertained what their respective positions were and what they sought to achieve. It soon became clear that they both had common goals:

  • a. They were both afraid of the unknown;
  • b. They both wanted to secure financial security;
  • c. They both wanted to ensure that the children were adequately provided for;
  • d. Neither was sure whether to Divorce or separate.

At the first meeting it was important that trust between the parties and the Collaborative Lawyers was established and the mutual trust needs to continue to enable the parties to make progress.

By the second meeting approximately 3 weeks later the parties had provided disclosure in advance to their respective lawyers, which involved businesses, family home, investment property, savings, shares etc.

At that meeting we all managed to put together a comprehensive schedule of all assets and Mr X and her lawyer also shared what financial settlement they were considering. She indicated that she was not looking at ongoing maintenance but looking at a clean break settlement. If at all possible she would agree for Mr X to continue running his business and both parties to continue retaining shares on the business. The discussions were not intended to be bartering, whereby starting high and negotiating to a lower figure. It was pitched at a fair level. Mr X did not feel that everything was being taken away from him. He could see that the proposals gave financial security to both of them.

We did not discuss the proposals at this meeting. It was merely agreed that we will think about that the wife was seeking and arrange a further meeting.

At the next meeting there were some issues about the care of the children, which were discussed. Discussions took place as to the financial divisions that were proposed at the earlier meeting. Again it was approached on what the clients regarded as fair and reasonable. The parties reached an agreement.

The final meeting was to discuss the written Agreement to ensure everyone understood and still accepted it. The parties signed the document.

On average each meeting lasted 2-2 ½ hours. The process lasted three months leaving the next few weeks fro implementation i.e. the transfer of the property, closing joint accounts, meeting with other shareholders to transfer shares etc.

Both Lawyers were emphatic not only with their own client but also with the other person. This mutual trust and respect assisted in moving towards problem solving.

There were minutes taken at each meeting and circulated to all parties.

At the end clients informed us that they had found the last three months very stressful and they would not want to do it again but they were glad to have gone through this process rather than the conventional methods of Lawyers writing and negotiating on their behalf, which would have taken much longer and probably would have been more stressful.

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