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  • 4 Apr 2024

    The collaborative process | Helping you divorce your way

    After 15 years of practising as a Family Lawyer, I recently made the decision to qualify as a Collaborative Lawyer. Collaborative Law is an alternative approach to resolving family disputes on separation, whether in relation to children or finances. Collaborative Law is well established in the US and Canada and whilst it first came to the UK in 2003, it is still relatively unknown. The collective organisation of Family Lawyers known as ‘Resolution’ provide the guidelines and training for those wanting to qualify and practise using the Collaborative Law approach. 

    In practice, Collaborative Law involves the clients and their respective Collaboratively trained Lawyers forming a ‘Team’ who resolve matters by attending a number of four-way meetings. At those meetings the lawyers and clients are committed to absolute honesty and transparency of process. Any legal advice is offered to the clients in the meetings in-front of the other client and their lawyer. There is no positioning and there are no secret discussions between the lawyer and client.  Also legal correspondence between meetings is limited to making arrangements for the next meeting or agreeing topics for discussion. Clients therefore get to see exactly what they are paying their Lawyers for.

    At the meetings, the Lawyers and clients explore a fair and workable outcome to suit everybody. Other professionals, known as Neutrals, can be invited to join the Team where everyone agrees it would be helpful. These could be Financial Advisors, Pension Experts or Family Therapists.

    Once an agreement is reached the paperwork is then drawn-up and submitted to the Court for approval. 

    There has in the last year or so been a clear move within the Family Law profession away from the traditional Court process towards all forms of non-court dispute resolution (also referred to as alternative dispute resolution. This move has in part been forced as a result of the great strain on the Family Courts which has meant huge delays in the Family Court process. 

    The Government has also recognised the need for a move away from the traditional Court process and recently approved the Family Procedure (Amendment No.2) Rules 2023 which will come into force on 29th April 2024. Those amendments introduce changes to the current Family Court process for example by requiring parties to evidence the fact that they have properly considered all forms of non-court dispute resolution and to punish parties with costs orders for failing to properly consider those alternatives. Collaborative Law is one form of non-court dispute resolution.

    To qualify as a Collaborative Lawyer, I participated in the three-day training course provided by Resolution. The course begins by reflecting upon the emotions a client will be experiencing when they instruct a Family Lawyer. Those emotions are most like someone suffering a bereavement. A client may be at any stage of that ‘bereavement’ when they instruct a Family Lawyer and the other party to the separation is likely to be in a different stage of the ‘bereavement’. Failure to recognise this is an obstacle to reaching a resolution. Collaborative Law acknowledges these challenges and seeks to address them whether that be simply by having that discussion with both clients and Lawyers present or, where necessary, involving a Family Therapist. Early resolution of those kinds of emotional issues will then assist with resolving the legal and financial issues.

    There is also a strong focus on the lasting impact of parental separation upon children. As part of the Collaborative Law course, we were encouraged to watch a video of interviews with children about their experiences. That video was a very difficult watch and a link to the video is below. Please be aware though the contents are extremely emotive, particularly if you have experience yourself of parental separation. 

    In the traditional, adversarial approach, Lawyers often focus only on the best financial outcome for clients, without giving sufficient focus to the outcome on the family as a whole, and in particular the children. A Collaborative Lawyer recognises that the family has a future once the Lawyers are no longer involved and it is important that the clients maintain the best relationship possible for the benefit of the children. Collaborative Law, as an approach to dealing with issues on divorce provides the best chance for the family to come out of the other side of the process in the best shape. 

    I can honestly say that if I, or a close family member, were going through a divorce, I would recommend the Collaborative Law approach.   

    Chris Brown Collaborative Law Qualification

    How can Hegarty help?

    If you would like further information about the collaborative process to find out if this might be the right option for you, please contact our family law team.

    Contact our team today

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