In 2005, I heard about an alternative family law practice that was being introduced in England, following success in Canada and North America. I attended a training course in Manchester and these two days changed my working life for the better.
Collaborative law (collaboration) allows you to resolve issues that arise from divorce and separation amicably. Matters relating to children or finances are negotiated around a table, with both parties supported by their own specialist solicitor.
The great thing is, each client still has the benefit of legal advice, but we work as a team of four to find solutions and outcomes that best suit the separating couple and any children.
I have practised family law for 26 years and always encourage clients to find ways to resolve disputes without going to court. By introducing the collaborative process, I can give them control of their lives that the legal system does not – what might be important to the individuals involved, may be irrelevant as far as a judge is concerned.
You can set your own agenda, decide how often you meet and for how long. Discussions are open and aim to be non-confrontational, although they can sometimes be emotional and difficult.
In previous collaborative meetings, I have not only witnessed tears and anger, but also moving moments when separating couples have acknowledged the hurt they caused each other. This has led to apologies and I have seen partners hold hands and cry together, despite their differences.
Collaboration is not always appropriate and there is still a place for litigation, particularly if one party is determined not to provide full disclosure or maintains an unreasonable stance. However, most people want to move on with their lives and it offers a way to resolve matters as quickly and cost effectively as possible.
On occasion, my collaborative colleagues and I have shared a chat over a bottle of champagne with couples who reached the end of the process in a cooperative and respectful manner. I can honestly say I have never seen clients come out of court wanting to do anything but get as far away from each other as possible.