What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law, also known as Collaborative practice, is a voluntary legal process for couples to work with specialist solicitors and on occasions, other family professionals, to resolve matters without the uncertainty of court and without the underlying threat of litigation. The process allows parties to have a fair and appropriate settlement.

It is not just limited to divorce and can be used in a variety of situations e.g. by same sex couples and in preparation of pre and post marital contracts.

How does it work?

You and your former partner will both be assisted by a specially qualified solicitor who will be with you throughout the process. A series of meetings known as “four way meetings” will take place where you and your solicitor and your former partner and their solicitor will be present to discuss matters in an open and constructive way. You and your former partner will remain very much in control of the situation; deciding how quickly things progress, when meetings take place and what issues are going to be discussed and resolved. Your solicitors will work together to help you and your former partner resolve matters so that you can both move forwards in your lives.

What is the difference between collaborative law and other processes?

The Collaborative process differs from solicitors negotiating with each other, “the Traditional process”, by the fact that discussions take place, and advice is given, in the four way meetings instead of solicitors advising their clients privately and then communicating with the other parties’ solicitor by letter, email or telephone. The process is confidential and the parties and lawyers sign an agreement at the outset to say they will be honest, open, courteous to the other participants and work hard to reach a solution which benefits the whole family, without applying to the court to make a decision. When an agreement is reached, the lawyers can draw up the necessary legal paperwork for the parties to sign, and send it to the court for approval, if appropriate.

Is it right for me?

The Collaborative process is tailored to assist you and your family in helping to resolve matters without the need to go to court. Your lawyer will discuss the process with you in detail to help you decide whether it is a suitable option for you in your personal circumstances. If you are willing to work with your lawyer and your former spouse and their lawyer openly and transparently to reach a decision that meets the needs of everybody and the family overall, then it could be the right option for you.

How will it work for my family?

As the Collaborative process is designed to keep separated couples out of court, it will benefit your family by reducing tension and animosity. As part of the Collaborative process, your family will have access to specialist advice from a range of professionals including legal advice, financial advice and counselling services. The process will be tailored around your family’s individual needs and circumstances and therefore will be a bespoke service. At the end of the process, you and your former partner will have decided how to settle your affairs rather than have a court impose an order upon you. Avoiding court proceedings and the acrimony that they can entail means that you and your former spouse have a better prospect of retaining a civil relationship which is particularly important when you share children together.

What extra support might be available using the collaborative process?

During the Collaborative process you will have access to collaboratively trained barristers, financial advisors, pension and tax experts if required. The advantage is that they will be able to advise you and your partner together during the process. In addition if required you can meet with a family consultant either before, during or after the process. A family consultant’s role is designed to assist with emotional support for both you and your partner either during a four way meeting or separately.

Do I have to be married?

You do not have to be married to use the Collaborative process. The process is suitable for any form of relationship breakdown, for example co-habitation, same sex. The Collaborative process is often used to deal with the sometimes tricky question of pre-nuptial agreement or post-nuptial agreement if couples had not been able to make suitable arrangements for a pre-nup or want to look again at the pre-nup.

How long will the process take?

It is possible for a separating couple to effectively set their own timetable and deal with matters in a way which best suits them and their family. It can be possible to deal with matters fairly quickly (with the proviso that information may need to be shared and legal paperwork might need to be sorted). For some separating couples there can be an immediate need to sort arrangements for the children although other matters may not be so pressing.  It is important to bear in mind that all involved need to be emotionally ready to take matters forward. A contested Court process is likely to take in the region of 12 months or so and it is most likely that a collaborative process would take a shorter amount of time.

Can I do it myself?

You can deal with your separation and any issues arising from it yourself. However both you and your partner will need to instruct a specially trained collaborative lawyer if you wish to engage in the Collaborative process. This is because both you and your partner will require legal advice and support to assist you both in reaching a solution that is right for your family.