With legal aid being phased out for many family-related cases, it is becoming more important than ever for some divorcing couples to consider an alternative to resolving their dispute in the family courts.
While there are various approaches to gaining a divorce without going to court, here, John Osborne, director of Harrison Drury’s family law department, explores the process of collaborative law. Family law expert Janine Hutson has also explored mediation in a previous blog here.
What is collaborative law?
A concept which originated in the US, collaborative law is a principle which encourages divorcing couples to resolve matters in a series of four-way meetings, attended by the two parties and their collaboratively-trained lawyers.
The national family lawyers’ association, Resolution, has wholeheartedly embraced this alternative approach to dispute resolution, with hundreds of collaboratively-trained lawyers now based across England and Wales.
The whole process is founded on the principle of there being a level playing field. Everyone in the process has the chance to make their point, and the parties can choose when and where the meetings take place. This flexibility means that cases inevitably settle in far shorter a timeframe than if the case was heard in court.
Involving other professionals
Sometimes four-way meetings can extend to involve additional experts such as accountants or financial advisers to help divorcing couples gain advice and reach agreement on key matters, such as the division of property, investments or pension pots.
A family consultant may also be brought in to provide family therapy, counselling or simply to help the parties reach agreement on any sticking points which are preventing an overall settlement being reached.
Critical to this approach is a participation agreement which all four parties sign to bind them to the process.
The most important aspect of this agreement is that both spouses agree not to resolve their matter at court with their appointed collaborative lawyers, meaning that if they are unable to resolve the dispute in the collaborative process, then the two appointed lawyers are unable to represent them in court.
This creates an incentive for former couples to honour the collaborative principles and resolve the case using this form of dispute resolution.
If you require legal advice regarding a divorce or family-related dispute, or to find out more information on the collaborative process, contact John Osborne on 01524 544160.