In England and Wales, there were 103,592 divorces granted in 2020.
While that’s down 4.5% from 2019, it’s still a startling figure. Even more so when you hear the worrying stories about how messy some divorces can be. However, it doesn’t always have to be a fraught, combative process.
Collaborative law allows for a collaborative divorce, which is becoming a more popular method for couples wishing to part ways. Keep reading to find out more about how it could help you.
What Is Collaborative Divorce?
Each party comes with their own lawyer, trained in collaborative practice. You will meet face to face with the other party to work together and get to an amicable solution. Both of you have your lawyer by your side so, at each stage, you have expert legal advice on hand.
As well as your lawyers, you may have access to:
- An independent financial advisor
- An accountant
- A family consultant
- A child specialist
They’re all there to support with financial matters and concerns around your children. This includes parenting, emotional guidance, and communication. These are all the professionals that make up your collaborative team.
You sign an agreement with your team that states you’re trying to resolve the issue without court. This also prevents them from representing you in court should the process break down. Because of this, each party has a commitment to finding a solution outside of court.
What’s the Difference Between Collaborative Law and Mediation?
Both Collaborative law and mediation methods use the principle of negotiation. With mediation, though, both parties meet one neutral mediator to talk things through. This mediator is not able to give any legal advice.
For collaborative law, both parties will instruct their own teams. Those teams have training in collaborative law and can offer legal advice. A collaborative lawyer is present for each party at all meetings, and you can call on them as you like.
Both these methods use meetings to discuss issues, but again, there is a difference. With mediation, only 3 people are present (the mediator and each partner). For collaborative law, there are 4 parties (each partner and their lawyers).
Sometimes there are even more parties involved in a meeting. For example, each party might have an individual financial adviser. Or there might be a child specialist there to help transition them through the changes.
In general, lawyers have to prepare for each meeting with their clients. They have to attend and then debrief their client afterwards. Because of this, it takes more time out of the lawyers’ schedules and will likely cost more than mediation.
But, with that extra cost come benefits. One distinct advantage is collaborative lawyers draft and agrees on the final papers. These are the same ones who were there through the whole process and understand why you agreed to what you did.
This reduces the change of delays caused by misunderstanding the agreement. No matter how unconventional the terms are, the lawyers know all about them. To do this with mediation, you’d need a mediator and a lawyer fully versed in the process. Or even a lawyer who also has done mediation work.
How Does Collaborative Divorce Work?
So, you’ve met your team and worked through the options available. You both want an amicable divorce so let’s explore what you should expect next.
Meet With Your Individual Lawyers
You’ll both meet with your lawyers away from each other to talk about expectations. You’ll need to discuss what you need to prepare ready for the first group meeting.
The collaborative meetings you will go into are often referred to as “4-way-meetings”. This is because all 4 of you meet together for most of them.
You may also meet with other professionals at this stage like financial advisers. The team will work out a plan to help you and your partner go forward in a way that suits you both.
The Lawyers Speak
Your lawyer will speak with your partner’s lawyer face to face. Sometimes this can be over the phone, but the purpose is to set up the first 4-way-meeting.
The First 4-Way-Meeting
At the first meeting, the lawyers will make you both aware of the commitment you’re making. You’ll hear again that this is to work out an agreement without court proceedings. You’ll then all sign the agreement and it comes into place.
You and your partner will also have an opportunity to say why you wanted to choose this process. Then, you will plan the agenda for your next meeting. It’s different for all, but this could include talking about how to explain the divorce to the children and help them handle it.
If there is time, you’ll discuss what financial information your teams will share. This may include financial documents each party will bring when you meet next.
The Next Meetings
The next round of meetings will deal with both partners’ concerns and priorities. For example, you might have specific financial worries that need addressing. Or the children might have specific schedules that need working around.
Your team will be there to help so the entire family can be as happy as possible given the circumstances. You can reach an agreement about how you’ll share finances or how you’ll meet the children’s needs. At every stage, you’re both in control and equal.
The Last Meeting
In the last meeting, you’ll see documents drawn up detailing all that you’ve agreed to with the team. You’ll both need to sign these, and both lawyers will talk you through the documents first. You will already have seen drafts, but this will be the final copy, minus any amendments.
Your lawyers will also talk through anything else that needs to get done so the agreement can be active. But don’t expect a firm timetable in all cases. If you’re having to sell the family home, for example, this can be hard to pinpoint an exact date.
What Are the Benefits?
So you know what collaborative divorce is and what to expect, but why should you pick this approach? Let’s find out the benefits this type of dispute resolution has to offer.
- It’s a more amicable divorce compared to other options
- It’s also more dignified
- You both maintain control avoiding the uncertainty of court
- Ensures both parties have a fair outcome
- Reduces the negative emotional impact on couples and children
- Can be cheaper as it’s faster with only one set of specialists
- No forced court timetables letting you work at your own pace
- Allows for a settlement that meets both your needs and the children’s
The uncertainty and threat of court can loom heavy and cause tension to fray early on. By seeking to avoid court altogether, it opens up both parties to a calm, rational discussion. Both parties can feel heard and represented, without the fear of a one-sided battle.
How Long Does It Take to Go Through the Collaborative Process?
Each divorce is different and timescales can vary. If you’re going down the traditional route, there is more of a set timescale. Often, this is a minimum of 6 months (26 weeks) to get a divorce but it can take longer if negotiations and court proceedings drag on.
One large benefit of collaborative law, as stated above, is that there is no set court timetable. This gives you and your partner the freedom to take your time, set emotions aside, and reach an agreement. There is no rush and no pressure for the sake of meeting a deadline.
This means you can build the process around your individual family timetable. The meetings you go through follow agendas that both you and your partner set. Sometimes, there is only a need for a few meetings to take place.
In other cases, 5 or more may be the only way to get things done. Either way, you can take as little or as many meetings as you need to reach an amicable agreement. At each one, your lawyer will be there to guide and support you, but never try to speed you along.
How Much Will It Cost to Go Through Collaborative Divorce?
At the beginning of the process, you should see an estimate of a rough cost to expect. This is before you’re committed or signed on with any one firm. But, remember that each case is different, and so are the costs.
A large factor will be how many sessions you and your partner need to reach an amicable agreement. Both lawyers will charge for their time and an hourly rate. Some will also apply travel expenses where appropriate.
If your case is on the longer end of 5 or more sessions, this can add up. It’ll often be more expensive than other methods like mediation, for example.
You should look to set these costs more in the ballpark of traditional divorces. Especially if your case is easy and straightforward.
If you’re both honest, and open and come up with a rough plan in mind already, it’ll go much smoother. The trouble starts when each party is not on the same page.
Another plus side is that, unlike traditional methods, you’ll avoid the costs of going to court. So, if you’re quick to agree, you’re looking at a much cheaper option than going down the litigation route.
Collaborative law also assigns each task to the appropriate professional. This avoids any chance of paying for duplicate work done and the effort that went into it. It’d surprise you how much money that could save on its own.
When Might You Not Want to Pick Collaborative Law?
It’s safe to say that collaborative law is the healthier way to go about getting a divorce. It’s also got the best chance of long-term success rates, too. But as with anything, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
This rings especially true for emotional situations like divorce. Collaborative law isn’t for everyone. For example, if your case comes with a history of domestic abuse, then this won’t be an appropriate choice.
For it to work, both partners need to have a commitment to keep things as amicable as possible. They need a positive attitude and a dedication to keeping negotiations open and fair. Both parties need to feel heard and get an outcome they can both be happy with.
With children involved, the couple will still need to function together. It’s not easy, especially when life moves on and there will be challenges. If both parties can work together during the divorce, it will set them up with more chances for the future.
If you and your partner cannot get on the same page, or one wants wild demands, then this process may not work. Also, you can only use this approach if both parties use a lawyer trained in collaborative law.
Should one party already instruct a non-collaborative lawyer, then they need to change. If they’re not willing to switch lawyers, then the only option left is the more traditional routes.
If you can, it’s best to talk about expectations before calling in the lawyers. You both have a chance to discuss the type of divorce you want and proceed as smoothly as possible from there.
What If Collaborative Law Doesn’t Work?
If collaborative law doesn’t work then unfortunately you’re back to square one. This means you need to find a new lawyer and part ways with your team. Your partner will need to do the same.
The good news is that this a good incentive to make the process work. When the talking gets tough, many people realise it’ll be much tougher to start again.
Let Collaborative Law Help You Keep Things on the Right Track
Collaborative law (by extension of collaborative divorce) can help keep you on track. The more amicable you keep things, the less disruption there is to daily life, especially for any children.
If you want a family lawyer committed to the collaborative process, contact us today. At Harbour Family Law, we have the knowledge and skills to help you and your partner get to a place where you can be happy in your new life apart.