In a traditional divorce or separation, couples must resolve issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support and the division of shared property and debt by agreement. If the couple cannot agree, the Court will make decisions for the family, and will issue a binding divorce decree or court order that imposes those decisions on the family.
In a collaborative divorce, however, you and your spouse agree to participate in your own negotiated settlement process, assisted by collaborative law lawyers who are specifically trained and experienced in helping you reach an agreement. If you cannot reach a settlement with your lawyers, you both must find new lawyers to take your case to Court.
“Collaborative law is based on cooperation and respect. It's designed to reach a negotiated settlement outside the Courts in a safe and private setting.”
How The Collaborative Law Process Works
First of all, both spouses must sign a Collaborative Participation Agreement at the outset. This agreement says you commit to negotiating a resolution and prevents either party from litigating against the other while negotiations are ongoing. You may also include provisions specific to your needs or goals, such as:
- Agreeing to resolve your differences in a non-adversarial way.
- Maintaining constructive communication throughout.
- Using your lawyer to assist you in reaching a settlement.
- Using neutral experts such as financial advisers, children's specialists or divorce coaches to facilitate the process.
You will then engage in four-way sessions with your spouse and your respective collaborative lawyers to explore the issues, create solutions through problem-solving and hopefully reach a settlement. It's important to note that your lawyers will not negotiate for you; they will work with you to keep the process constructive, on-task and moving towards a resolution. This means that the discussions and decisions ultimately remain in your control.
Advantages of Collaborative Law
Like mediation, collaborative family law offers individuals an alternative to resolving very personal and emotionally difficult issues in a courtroom. This is perhaps the most important reason you might consider taking a collaborative approach. Instead of airing your grievances and listing your hopes for the future before a room full of strangers, you work with trusted professionals on resolving your differences in a safe and private setting.
Collaborative family law has several other advantages as well, including:
- It gives both parties more control over the process and the outcomes. In mediation, the process is fairly set in stone. In collaborative law, you set the parameters and items for discussion ahead of time.
- It uses a team approach. In addition to your lawyers, you may find the assistance of professionals like financial or tax advisers, child specialists, divorce coaches and others integral to your decision-making process. Collaborative law allows you to bring in such experts to help you make informed decisions.
- It is generally less time-consuming and less costly, because it takes place outside of the Courts. You need not wait for a specific Court date (which could be set several months away) nor pay additional Court fees for a judge's time.
- It's often a more positive experience and leads to better agreements. Working together on your agreement can make the process of splitting up more positive than fighting in Court. Moreover, agreements made in a collaborative setting tend to set everyone up for success, to last longer and to prevent future conflicts.
Disadvantages of Collaborative Law
Collaborative family law works best when both parties seek to protect their individual interests in the spirit of compromise. Relationships with unequal power dynamics, especially those that have existed for years or decades, can jeopardize this collaborative spirit. This is especially common in cases where family violence is of concern.
Another concern is if the process does not work out. If you or your partner pulls out of the collaborative process, you will need to find new lawyers and a new team to represent you. The process doesn't leave room for renegotiation — if you cannot reach an agreement collaboratively, you will need to start over.
Finally, collaborative law may involve additional costs. The flexibility of bringing in experts is a great feature of collaborative family law. However, these experts will have associated fees.
An experienced collaborative team like ours will be on the lookout for such issues, hopefully before agreements are signed and negotiations get underway. Our lawyers at Westside Family Law keep aware of potential red flags and steer you in the right direction in terms of finding the best approach to resolving your family law issue.
Is A Collaborative Approach Right For You?
Collaborative family law does not work for everyone. It requires that you remain committed to working together with your spouse. However, in a collaborative process, trained professionals will be there to assist you with the legal and emotional issues that always accompany a marriage dissolution.
Our lawyers are highly skilled at helping families find not just a resolution, but the right resolution for their family's needs. Fill out the contact form below to set up a free consultation with a lawyer, or call us at 604-734-7911 to get started.