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Collaborative Law in terms of legal processes is very much the new kid on the block.

FamilyThis new way to approach the process of divorce was founded and first practiced in the USA, by a divorce lawyer Stuart Webb in 1990.

Since then it has become a respected and increasingly popular route to separation and divorce in the USA and across the world. In 2003 it was launched in England and Wales and now over 1,300 lawyers have now completed their training.

Currently Resolution, the Family Lawyer organisation, undertakes all the training and accreditation of Collaborative Lawyers here.

It was also announced last year that from October this year families who qualify for Legal Aid would be able to choose the Collaborative Law process if they wish.

Collaborative Law can be summed up as a formula that offers an alternative to the family court process for dealing with and resolving the issues that arise out of any family dispute.

The process is designed to be less combative and drawn out, and at its heart is a participation agreement where both partners, with the support of their own lawyers, agree to follow the steps of the Collaborative Law process. Everyone commits to reaching agreement without recourse to the court process.

Once the process is agreed and understood a series of meetings begin to help you and your partner work things out together, face to face, with the support of your own lawyer rather than the usual process where your views are filtered through your lawyers to your ex partner’s lawyers by letter or phone.

All four of you – you. your partner and your respective lawyers – discuss the issues that affect your family and look to the future. If you have children this will usually involve discussing how each child is adjusting to the separation, and how best that child’s problems or worries could be addressed. Sometimes you will discuss the initial issues on finances and decide what information needs to brought to the next meeting.

Future meetings often look at arrangements for the children and finances. You will share the cost of instructing specialists for advice, if external advice is needed, including financial advisers, accountants and pension actuaries. Overall your priorities and concerns are paramount as you move towards an agreement that doesn’t involve a court timetable or going to court at all.

I became qualified in Collaborative Law in 2008. I have been a mediator for many years and although that process suits many separating couples I found mediation sometimes did not suit the situations which involved more complicated financial issues.

I have always felt that the best solution when separating is a solution that has been agreed on jointly, with the assistance and guidance of lawyers but without too much interference from the lawyers. I have also increasingly felt after 20 years of practice that approaching situations on the basis of “can we win” is not helpful to most family problems, leaving in its wake difficulties and resentments for the family and children which can last for years.

The Collaborative process seemed to me to combine very well both the aspects that work well in mediation, where the couple are assisted to start to talk to each other more constructively and the support and assistance of their lawyers in identifying options.

The key advantage of the process is the lawyers signing up to the participation agreement themselves and thus committing themselves to the success of the process. The lawyers are thus able to prevent breakdowns in the negotiations or minimise their effects. The lawyers work together to create a better understanding between the couple - which can of course assist in the long term.

Collaborative Process by its format is not suitable to couples who have been involved in very abusive or violent relationships, but it is still capable of a successful outcome if the couple at the beginning cannot even bear to look at each other. A commitment to reaching a fair solution (rather than simply “winning”) is the key.

Finally.. the Collaborative Law model is now also being used for some pre nuptial agreements where the bride and groom sit down together to draw up a plan if they separate in the future.

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