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What is collaborative law? by Marc Etherington

Collaborative law, or in other words, the collaborative process is a form of dispute resolution that can help you and your ex-partner reach an agreement in a way that can be dignified in its approach, allow both parties to have legal representation at all times and reach an agreement rather than decisions being determined by a third party.

I would describe the collaborative process as one where it is not about adopting positions and trying to negotiate an agreement somewhere in the middle of those positions, but rather having a four way conversation with the focus of you, your ex-partner and the family lawyers looking to achieve outcomes that are best for the family, not one individual.

In order for collaborative law to be engaged, you and your ex-partner shall each need to appoint a family lawyer who is collaboratively trained. All key discussions shall take place in meetings with all parties in attendance, either in the same room or online. As and when required, other professions can attend the meetings as well all of whom are part of the same pod. This could include, for example, a financial advisor, an accountant, a divorce coach, a therapist or even a barrister all of whom could provide assistance to support you and your ex- partner finding the right solution.

Before you commit to the collaborative process, you and your ex-partner will each be expected to sign a participation agreement that commits you and ex-partner in trying to resolve all issues following the breakdown of the relationship separation without going to court. By signing this agreement everyone, including the family lawyers instructed, are committed to trying to achieve the best outcome and avoid litigation which can be expensive, lengthy and unpredictable.

Your lawyer and your ex-partner’s lawyer will often speak to each other before each meeting to plan the agenda to make the most of each face to face meeting. The length and frequency of the meetings can be determined by you and your ex-partner meaning you have control of the process.

The family lawyers are not working against each other for the benefit of their own client but working collaboratively together to help you and your ex-partner find the solution that works best for both of you and, if applicable, your children. Therefore, in order for the collaborative process to work, there has to be a great deal of trust not only between you and your ex-partner but also the family lawyers and any other third party professionals that are part of your collaborative journey.

At your first meeting you and your ex-partner will be invited to share your own objectives, why you wanted to choose the collaborative process and what you hope to achieve moving forward. These meetings are often positive because you and your ex-partner may realise you want to achieve the same outcome, but initially just have different views how to get there. Further meetings will explore both of your priorities and concerns to try and resolve those issues together with the benefit of maintaining legal advice throughout.

The collaborative process may only take a couple of meetings to conclude all matters, but others may require four or five. Sometimes the meetings may go very smoothly but other times there may be difficult conversations to have. My view is where you have two good family lawyers in the room and two parties who are prepared to listen to the other and want to deal with their separation journey in the right way a resolution will always be found. You and your ex-partner have much greater flexibility in what you can agree in comparison to what may be determined by a judge or arbitrator, who may be more limited in the potential outcomes that neither you nor your ex-partner are happy with.

It is why I am really proud to part of the ‘We Can Work It Out Collaborative Pod’ because within this pod is a group of family law professionals who do believe approaching family law in the right way and wanting to help you achieve a good divorce/separation. Those within the pod trust each other to explore every avenue possible to help families achieve an outcome that is fair.

The collaborative process can help you and your ex-partner stay on more amicable terms and can lead to sounder and longer lasting solutions to ensure that any arrangements agreed remain in place for the long term.

If you have any questions about collaborative law process feel free to contact myself or another member of the pod.

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