Few things can be as heart breaking as divorce, but the family court's new collaborative approach aims to soften the divorce process. Family lawyer, Zoe Bloom, explains how couples wishing to separate amicably can take advantage of this new approach.
"A divorce is like an amputation; you survive, but there's less of you" Margaret Atwood.
A divorce or breakdown of a family is recognised to be one of the most stressful events a person is ever likely to encounter. It impacts not only the immediate family but everyone who surrounds that family including friends, colleagues and business partners.
"Ah, yes, divorce... from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man's genitals through his wallet." Robin Williams
Clichéd images of divorce lawyers include the terrifying lady lawyer hell bent on destroying the husband; or perhaps the shrewd and calculating male lawyer acting to hide assets. Today, there is an opportunity to avoid both of these stereotypes and conduct your divorce with dignity, and without going to court.
A collaborative approach
A collaborative divorce involves couples working with their solicitors in an honest and respectful way in an attempt to find a win-win solution to the family's problems.
Collaborative law is a recognised legal process whereby the husband and wife each appoint a specially trained lawyer from a different firm. Together with their lawyers, the couple attends a series of round table meetings in an attempt to come to a settlement which meets each of their needs.
It is not a process which will suit everyone but for those who enter the process the success rate is around 85 per cent.
The cheapest option is a divorce which settles all the issues without any need for lawyer negotiation or guidance. Unfortunately that is not always appropriate. Collaborative law is often cheaper than a 'normal' divorce but perhaps more encouragingly, the time spent is more relevant to the parties. 'Tit for tat' or point scoring legal action is not a part of the collaborative process so the time (and money) spent on legal fees is really focussed on developing options and workable solutions for the clients.
Collaborative law can also be used to agree pre or post nuptial agreements and to settle distinct disputes at the outset of a separation or relating to cohabitation.
Would collaborative law suit me?
To find out whether your divorce might be suitable for a collaborative approach, consider the following questions:
Do you want to maintain control over the process in terms of time and pace?
Face to face meetings are scheduled by the people going through the marriage breakdown at a pace which they find comfortable. There are no court dates or rushed hearings.
Are you prepared to be upfront with your partner?
The collaborative process can only work if you and your partner are prepared to disclose everything about your financial and family situation. That would include any interests you might have around the world in any form. Your partner's lawyer will go through the information he or she is presented with and ensure it forms a coherent picture.
Can you sit in the same room as your partner?
During the negotiations you and your partner will sit in a room together to discuss the best outcome for you and the family. You will be given assistance from the lawyers as well as any other third party which might help you. This might include help from financial advisors or family consultants who are there to help support each of you through the meetings.
Are the needs of your children your primary concern?
If you have children, despite any court actions, you and your partner will remain parents. A battle in the court over finances makes this harder. The easiest way is to maintain the relationship by remaining civil, open, honest and kind to one another.
Are you open to options relating to financial and child care arrangements?
Collaboratively trained lawyers are trained to help their clients generate options to help meet their needs and solve any difficulties. The less restricted the lawyers and their clients are to explore these options the more positive the experience will be.
How is this different to mediation?
Sometimes mediation is the most effective problem solving route for a couple going through a separation or divorce. However sometimes mediation breaks down as one or both parties will seek legal opinion about the proposals they are reaching and that opinion is divisive. Further, some people feel that mediation doesn't offer them the support they need. In the collaborative process each of you will be supported by a lawyer offering legal support in every meeting.
The best way to proceed at the outset of a marriage breakdown is to visit a legal advisor trained in the collaborative process. It is better to go without your partner. The lawyer can help you go through your options, including collaborative law, with regards to settling any disputes which may arise.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.