Collaborative law

When many people get divorced, instinct might lead them to fear for the future, think their spouse will be out to get them, and want to retreat into their corner before they come out fighting.

The problems with this approach though are that it’s very expensive, takes far too long to resolve, the couple lose control of the process and they end up feeling little but animosity towards each other. Not a good idea when:

a. There are children, which means they’ll always have a link between them and will have to meet up at, say, weddings and christenings;
b. What money there is needs to be spent on the family more than on legal fees;
c. The longer it takes to resolve the deeper rooted the animosity becomes;
d. The right solution for them both might not fit into traditional solutions offered by courts and lawyers.

There are 4 main ways to resolve these disputes:

i. By application to court
ii. By negotiation through solicitors
iii. By going to mediation
iv. By doing it Collaboratively

The last option is a relatively new addition to these shores, the concept having been imported from America.

The idea is that you sign up to an agreement that you won’t go to court, and you’ll sort it out together with mutual respect. The lawyers (who have had specialist training) sign up to this too. Not only that, but if your lawyers can’t help you sort it out then you’ll have to sack them both and seek advice elsewhere.

Rather than exchange copious letters, most of the work gets done in a series of “4-way” meetings; that is, meetings attended by the couple together and the lawyers. Discussions include the children, interim sharing of income, and full financial agreement. It’s the job of the lawyers to make sure that the couple keep their discussions on track, have ownership of the settlement, properly support them both in the discussions, offer advice where appropriate (all advice is given openly) and then implement any agreement reached.

And the results are impressive. Anecdotally, something like 98% of cases are fully resolved using the Collaborative approach. Granted, more than 90% of non-collaborative cases are resolved without going to a full trial in court, but if the court is involved (and often if it’s not) that’s usually 6-12 months down the line, and after many hurtful claims have been made by both parties (not to mention the cost). It’s far better to resolve these things before bridges are burned and missiles launched.

Collaboration isn’t for everyone. It takes two to want to do it. But where it happens, settlements are reached far more rapidly than involving the court, and with so much value added.

What a difference a change in approach makes.

Andrew Lee

Andrew is a Collaborative Family Lawyer, and a Senior Associate Solicitor at Gregory Abrams Davidson. To contact: Tel 0151 236 5000/ 0151 330 0734: