Recent statistics show that the divorce rate in England and Wales is on the increase. Deciding on how to deal with arrangements for children and finances on divorce can be the most difficult and emotional issues that a separating couple can face. An agreed solution is the best, and one way of achieving this is through the collaborative law process.
So what is collaborative law? This is a process where each person appoints their own trained collaborative lawyer and negotiations are conducted by a series of meetings between all 4 instead of by telephone or correspondence. They each have their lawyer by their side throughout the process and so benefit from immediate advice and support.
The couple and their lawyers sign a "Participation Agreement" committing them all to resolving the issues without going to court and while this does mean that the same lawyers cannot represent them if the collaborative process breaks down, the success rate is high. The focus is on constructive discussion and problem-solving, with the lawyers working as a team to seek the best solutions for the couple.
What happens in the collaborative law process? The couple will each meet with their respective lawyers to discuss the methods that are available for them to resolve their issues and will decide upon whether the collaborative process is for them. Once confirmed, the two lawyers will plan for the first meeting. They will flag up any urgent issues for discussion and identify sensitive matters so that each is aware of them and arrangements can be made for them to be dealt with appropriately.
At the first meeting, the couple and their lawyers will sign the Participation Agreement and the couple will be invited to share their individual objectives in choosing this method for resolving matters. Discussions may centre around divorce, how any children are coping with the separation and on any immediate and interim financial arrangements that need to be put into place. An agenda will also be planned for the next meeting. Where finances are involved, this will include a date for the exchange of full financial documentation.
The following meetings will be used to discuss the issues that the couple wish to resolve and it may be appropriate for other experts to assist in relation to areas such as financial planning and pensions. Experts may also be involved to help any children cope with the changes that will arise due to the separation.
At the final meeting, the documents containing the terms of any agreement reached will be signed, with the lawyers explaining the steps that need to be taken to implement its terms. Where required, the lawyers will arrange for any financial agreement to be converted into a Consent Order and submitted to court for approval.
The meetings will help the couple to reach an agreed outcome about finances and the arrangements for children and will enable them to have as good a relationship as possible moving forward, which is important for the sake of any children.
The couple are in control of the process which is flexible to suit them, their circumstances and the issues for discussion. The meetings are arranged at their own pace and some couples may only need two meetings to reach an agreement whereas others may need more.
Collaborative Law is a ‘value added’ process and while it may not be suitable in every case it will have benefits for many.
Jayne Turner is a trained and experienced collaborative lawyer and will advise on whether Collaborative Law is the right option for you. She is also a Resolution Accredited Specialist in Complex Financial Remedies and Pensions on Divorce and is an Advanced Member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel.