Collaborative Law

Collaborative Law is a non-adversarial form of negotiation  designed to promote agreements about financial and property issues so that both parties can be confident are the best possible outcome for them and their children. Collaborative lawyers work together with their clients and the other side to find a satisfactory outcome that allows a husband and wife to bring their marriage to an end with the minimum of acrimony and in such a way that they are able to remain on speaking terms in the future. This is often very important, especially where a couple have children. Each person appoints their own lawyer, but instead of conducting negotiations between you and your partner by letter or phone, you meet together to work things out face to face.

Each of you will have your lawyer by your side throughout the entire process and therefore you will benefit from legal advice as you go. The aim of collaborative law is to resolve family disputes without going to the Family Court and to ensure that both sides feel that the result is fair.

In a collaborative case, you proceed at the speed that is most suitable for you, which may be faster or slower than court proceedings. You can discuss matters which are important to you, but which a court may not be prepared to spend any time on. You can come up with more imaginative solutions, whereas the court has only a limited number of options that it can impose. Collaborative law allows you and your spouse to have a bespoke outcome that it best suited to your needs and which both of you can feel is fair.

If you have children, you and your spouse will still have to deal with each other for years to come; the collaborative process ensures that you remain on speaking terms after your divorce.

Not all family solicitors have trained as collaborative lawyers and therefore not all law firms can offer collaborative law. However, Armstrong Family Law has considerable experience of collaborative law cases and can help you to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family.

For more information about collaborative law, please visit the Resolution website or the Collaborative Lawyers Colchester website.

Please download the Collaborative Lawyers Colchester leaflet and the Collaborative Law voucher here which entitles you to a free 15 minute information session with us when we can discuss Collaborative Law with you.

Find out more about the collaborative process by watching this short video:

Collaborative Law Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Collaborative Law better?

For some couples, in some circumstances, the collaborative approach may not be “better” – it may not be the best way to deliver the best solution. But we are finding that, for many, its inclusive, co-operative ethos provides the very best scope for couples to reach agreement, and move on.

If this is so good, does it mean that you lawyers have all been getting it wrong all this time?

Far from it. There are many excellent lawyers out there who are not collaboratively trained, but who limit their practice to other more traditional techniques. These techniques may well be the most appropriate in some cases. Good practice evolves, and collaborative law is one more option which is proving to provide the very best approach for many families – especially those who like to maintain control over their own situation and who recognise the benefits to be gained from jointly reaching agreements.

Isn’t this just another way of lawyers making more money?

No – it is actually an alternative way of resolving disputes. Of course lawyers get paid for their professional expertise, but they charge no more or less for working collaboratively than they do for working in a more traditional way. What good lawyers do is help find the best solutions, most cost-effectively. Many are increasingly recognising that the collaborative approach does exactly that.

Is it cheaper?

Often – but not necessarily. Every divorce is different and sometimes it is hard to compare what something might have cost if an adversarial approach, for example, had been adopted, instead of the collaborative approach. Many cases do demonstrate the cost-savings to be achieved by all sitting round a table together talking through solutions, rather than competing via adversarial solicitors for supposedly “the best deal”.

Those who adopt the collaborative approach quickly recognise that the best deal is not necessarily the cheapest one, or the one in which they end up with most material things.

When you factor in the emotional as well as the financial cost, especially where children are involved, the question of “cheapness” simply doesn’t apply.

Great idea – but who needs a lawyer to do it?

Marriage is a legal commitment. Divorce is a legal process, and it needs to be legally untangled. Lawyers have a role to play in this process, whatever technique a couple choose to use. One of the things that makes the collaborative approach so special and effective is that it does not involve only lawyers. It is an inclusive process in which financial advisers and even life counsellors are brought in to work together with the family and the lawyers, to agree the best solution. It not only needs a lawyer to be involved – it needs two very special lawyers, each wholeheartedly committed to reaching agreed solutions co-operatively.

Isn’t this just another touchy-feely namby-pamby idea from the States?

In fact, Canada, as much as the US, is in the vanguard of collaborative family law development. Here in the UK, the practice has developed in its own way, to meet the British requirement. It is true – the process does eliminate the macho adversarial approach which may have typified divorce some twenty years ago.

That’s a good thing. Don’t dismiss it as “touchy feely”. Instead, acknowledge that it is in response to the significant proportion of divorcing couples who want to see fairness, and who recognise that emotional welfare has its place alongside financial welfare when marriages break down.

Can’t the richer of the protagonists just get a better lawyer?

Couples who adopt the collaborative approach recognise that they both want the best advice to reach the best solution for all involved. By working together with two lawyers, and financial advisors and counsellors where appropriate, they are best positioned to find the best resolution. Approached in the right way, it is as close to everyone being a winner as it is possible to get when marriages break down.

What if I don’t like it once I get started?

Hopefully you will go into the process with the full knowledge of what is involved. Don’t think it is an easy route – it will be hard, but the alternatives are hard too. Of course, if you find the process does not suit you, or is not delivering what you wanted, you can withdraw.

You are in control. It will mean you will both have to find new lawyers though, because, as part of the process, your collaborative lawyer signs an undertaking not to use the courts.

Are you seriously saying warring couples are going to get together and talk it through?

No – if couples are “warring” they are unlikely to choose to adopt a collaborative approach. Collaborative law is not right for all circumstances. It is couples who know they want a negotiated, jointly “owned” settlement which minimises the emotional cost of divorce, who choose collaborative family lawyers.

Come on – how do you achieve a power balance? One of the two is going to dominate, surely?

It can be difficult, and involves real skill and patience on behalf of everyone involved, to get the balance right. But it would be wrong to think that there is something “soft” or weak about collaborative lawyers. They are skilled in providing balanced guidance for couples who, remember, are genuinely seeking a fair and equitable resolution.

Don’t lawyers just make any situation worse?

It’s an easy jibe, and a common myth, but simply not true. Good lawyers help couples achieve their desire for fair solutions which take account of the emotional and financial needs of families who split.

You’re not trained to counsel – your skills and counselling skills just don’t go together.

Actually, you may be surprised at the number of collaborative lawyers who are skilled in other disciplines, like mediation for example. But you are right – we are mostly not trained counsellors, or qualified financial advisors for that matter. That’s why you will find that each regional network of collaborative lawyers has in turn an extended network of counsellors, IFAs and others who are brought into the process at the appropriate time.

You pretend the client is in control but you are disingenuous – you are in control really.

We are simply there to provide a structure, to offer guidance, and to advise on the legal issues relating to relationship breakdown. Because of our experience we are able to steer discussion if they get off track, but it is the clients who set the agenda and the clients who remain in control of arriving at their own solutions.

How do you square your professional duty to meet your client’s best interests with the collaborative approach?

Don’t get trapped in the outmoded perspective of the adversarial approach. By choosing the collaborative approach the client has indicated that they want a holistic solution, in open discussion with their partner and his/her lawyer. By effecting that, we meet our professional duty to facilitate clients making their own decisions about what is best for them.

Still not sure that the collaborative process is right for you? Consider mediation instead.

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