Collaborative Law - An alternative to the Family Courts

11 Aug 2004

Collaborative Law is a process which can be used for resolving finances, children arrangements and other problems for separating families. It has become an increasingly popular choice in America over the last 14 years and is attracting much interest now that English solicitors are being introduced to the system.

Collaborative law is an alternative to court-based litigation and the traditional adversarial system. The aim is to enable separating families to resolve matters amicably, achieve a settlement that satisfies them both and reduces legal costs without the anger, frustration, hostility and negative consequences that many experience following the traditional process.

A system with these goals must be worth serious consideration, particularly where children are involved. It is well known and accepted that divorce can have a detrimental effect on children and that it is important for their welfare that they enjoy a good ongoing relationship with both parents which sometimes is only possible if both parents remain on reasonable terms.

"It is too good to be true" I hear you say; an efficient, fair and comprehensive resolution of all issues, with both parties remaining on good terms and with reduced legal costs. But it is possible in some cases.

How does Collaborative Law work?

Both parties retain specially trained solicitors to help them try and settle the dispute with a fair agreement. The parties and their solicitors agree not to threaten or issue court proceedings, but if they are instructed to the process ends and the solicitors cannot continue to act.

This impresses on the parties (and their solicitors!) the importance of sticking with the system and treating it seriously.

The use of counsellors and other professionals is encouraged if appropriate. The rationale is that a specially trained professional is better able to deal with a particular problem more effectively.

All participants work as a team, respectfully, honestly and in good faith to find solutions that meet the legitimate needs of both parties. They agree to disclose all relevant documents and information and to do this on a voluntary basis without delay. An agreement is signed reflecting all these terms. If either party reneges the process ends.

The negotiations proceed in a series of four-way meetings. Problems are identified, goals are set and possible solutions are tested for practicality. How long the process takes will depend on the issues and complexities, but if it is successful the terms will be incorporated in a binding court order.

Collaborative Law v Mediation

Collaborative law should not be confused with mediation. The aims are the same as are some of the techniques, but collaborative law allows both parties to seek legal advice throughout the process with a solicitor who will be present with them during all meetings so that they will not feel isolated or exposed.

Collaborative law is not suitable where there is hostility or where one party does not trust the other party to cooperate or be honest, but a just and fair solution focusing on the well being of the family is possible if both parties are willing to participate.

For further information, please contact Eileen Graham on 020 7468 7225

Additional information