This is a relatively new process, which has proved increasingly popular. Lawyers and their clients work together to resolve disputes respectfully where the legal, financial and practical aspects are all addressed, as well as relationships with children and other family members. All TM Family Law solicitors are fully trained and experienced collaborative lawyers. The difference between mediation and collaborative law is that, while in a mediation the solicitors are not usually present, in a collaborative law forum the solicitors are there throughout to offer advice and support to their clients.
Of course, not all circumstances will be suitable for collaborative law resolution. Clients must be able to participate in good faith and see perspectives and needs beyond their own, for example. But it is a good option for people who:
- Wish to achieve a solution with a minimum of aggression;
- Reach a solution with the best interests of their children in mind;
- Desire to preserve good, open relations with their former partner in the future;
- Want to avoid the stress and expense of court litigation;
- Are not seeking revenge or retaliation – just a fair settlement all round.
Once a client and solicitor have together embarked on the collaborative law process, if the process fails to achieve a solution, that solicitor will no longer be able to act for their client and the latter would then need to find a new solicitor to take the matter forward. There are no guarantees that the collaborative law process will work, that the other party won’t act in bad faith or neglect to provide full disclosure, but if we suspect that this is the case we would advise our client as soon as we were aware of the situation.
Our solicitors will set up a meeting with you to discuss the best strategy and your main goals, which might relate to everything from property, children and access, to financial provision and business and pension arrangements. We will explain the process and encourage our clients to identify any weaknesses or anxieties at the start so that these can be considered. We will then be able to ensure you are fully prepared before arranging the first collaborative law meeting with the other party.
Before the first four-way meeting your solicitor will also meet with the other party’s lawyer to consider the issues, prepare an agenda, establish rules and plan the practicalities. The process is respectful and the lawyers will usually build a rapport prior to the first meeting at which their clients will be present.
At the first four-way meeting the lawyers will summarise the purpose of the collaborative law process, emphasising the respectful approach, the timing, disclosure obligations and practicalities. The clients will be invited to explain their own objectives before signing a four-way participation agreement. This will include the lawyers agreeing:
- Not to go to court.
- To be constructive and fair in finding a solution to all the issues.
- If children are involved, to prioritise their needs.
- To be truthful, open and courteous.
- To jointly instruct any professionals, whose opinions are required.
The clients will agree:
- Not to bring up past grievances.
- To be courteous to one another.
- Not to use threatening language.
- Not to criticise each other in front of the children or involve children in their disputes.
- To promote a loving relationship between the children and both parents.
- To provide full disclosure of all information relevant to the matter.
- Only to discuss the settlement at the four-way meetings.
Depending on the circumstances and complexity of each case, several four-way meetings might be needed before all the issues can be resolved. Separate meetings may be held to identify the facts required and exchange key documents and information. Other professionals may also need to be involved, such as an accountant, or children or pensions specialists. However many meetings there are, the lawyers will assist throughout the process in helping to identify solutions and preparing documents. You lawyer’s role is primarily to:
- Help resolve any conflicts.
- Assist with the disclosure of documents and the exchange of information.
- Instruct other professionals as appropriate.
- Advise and support you.
- Prepare the final agreement before it is made official by the court.
A final meeting will be held for the parties to approve and sign the final agreement. The solicitors will then prepare all the relevant court documents to formalise the divorce.
If the process breaks down there is provision for a ‘cooling off’ period of 21 days before any further proceedings can commence to give the parties scope to rescue the situation, although this doesn’t apply if either client has broken the agreement. If the client subsequently goes to court with another lawyer, they will not be able to rely on anything discussed at the collaborative law meetings. The reason for this is that any attempt to settle the dispute before going to court is ‘without prejudice’ until a binding agreement is reached