What is collaborative law?The collaborative family law process is a way of dealing with family disputes with a view to avoiding contested and upsetting court proceedings. 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 throughout. The aim of collaborative law is to resolve family disputes to enable both parties to move on with their lives in a positive way for the benefit not only of the parties but the children.
How does the collaborative process work?You’ve both met with your respective lawyers, discussed the different options and processes available and decided that the collaborative process is for you. What can you expect to happen next?
You will both meet individually with your separate lawyers to talk about what to expect in the collaborative meetings which are usually referred to as 'four way' meetings as they are meetings between the four of you - you and your partner and your respective lawyers. You and your lawyer will discuss what you both need to do in order to prepare for the first 'four way' meeting.
Your lawyer and your partner’s lawyer will speak to each other either face to face or over the phone in order to plan for your first meeting and decide on the venue for the first meeting.
The first four way meeting:At the first four way meeting the lawyers will make sure that you both understand that you are making a commitment to working out an agreement without going to court all four sign an agreement to this effect.
You and your partner will be invited to share your own objectives in choosing this process and you will all plan the agenda for the next meeting. This will depend on your own individual circumstances but might typically include a discussion about how the children are responding to the separation.
If time permits you may also go on to discuss how financial information will be shared and agree on who will bring what financial information to the next meeting.
Subsequent four way meetings:Subsequent meetings will deal with you and your partner’s particular priorities and concerns. You might, for instance, look at involving other professionals such as specialists in pensions and financial planning or people trained to assist children in understanding and coping with the changes that your divorce or separation will bring to their lives. The meetings will enable you to reach agreement on how the finances will be shared or what arrangements need to be made for any children.
The final meeting:In the final meeting documents detailing the agreements you have reached will be signed and your lawyers will talk you through anything else that needs to be done in order to implement those agreements. Sometimes a firm timetable for implementation will not be possible, for instance, if the family house needs to be sold.
How long does the collaborative process take?One of the benefits of the collaborative process is that it’s not driven by a timetable imposed by the court. So to a large extent the process can be built around your family’s individual timetable and priorities.
Clearly, Collaborative Law is not suitable for every couple and is amongst a range of options available to separating couples, including mediation, out of court negotiation through solicitors and the court process. If the collaborative process breaks down, each partner needs to find an alternative solicitor, so it is very important that we meet with you to assess the benefits and risks before the process begins.
Eleanor Benfield is a Resolution trained collaborative lawyer.
‘I chose Edward Hayes solicitors to represent me in the collaborative process as they had the correct qualifications. This is a fairly new process and not all family law firm departments have solicitors trained to the required level. Eleanor Benfield, once she was collaborative, and no longer adversarial, created an air of ease and reassurance. She worked with my wife's solicitor in manner that was hard to distinguish that he wasn't actually a colleague from the same firm, but rather someone she worked closely with to deliver a dual solution. She was in fact doing so with my best intentions, putting ideas that hadn't even occurred to me as well as listening to any requests I made and implementing them in the final consent order. All in all, I feel that Eleanor got me through a challenging time, creating a future for me that I am actually excited about, rather than the life I envisaged (which included a one bedroom bedsit!!!) before meeting Eleanor and engaging in the collaborative process.’