Many couples are looking to separate amicably – a ‘conscious uncoupling’ to quote Gwyneth Paltrow – and want to retain control of the process, making the decisions that reflect their family structure and values, rather than allowing the court to impose its view on them.
Collaborative divorce offers couples the opportunity to achieve this.
What are the benefits of collaborative divorce for couples?
All discussion happen in a room with you, your spouse and your lawyers. There is no bargaining done by solicitors away from the room and no offers made in correspondence which might be misunderstood or inflame the temperature.
The scope for what can be covered in an agreement is far wider than what can be imposed and ordered by a court, but these agreements can still be incorporated into an enforceable court order at the end of the process. The couple can ensure that what has been a priority for them remains a priority in their discussions, such as ensuring children can remain in private education.
As this process happens outside of any court timetable, it can go as slowly or as quickly as the couple needs. There may be a need to put matters on hold to obtain advice from a pension expert or a financial adviser, or simply to allow one person to get up to speed with what is going on. But also it can be possible to move very quickly and schedule meetings close together where there is a need for a speedy decision to allow a couple to move on with, say, a house sale.
As all discussions happen in the room with both lawyers, advice is shared. One person can meet separately with their lawyer but the advice given must be capable of being shared. Any advice obtained from a third party expert is given to the couple together so they share that knowledge. The lawyers can also share with the couple what they believe would be the view of a Judge on any issue, even where they disagree on that.
Good working relationship between the couple
Where matters are resolved by agreement they are more likely to stick and if issues come up along the way they can be addressed by discussion, rather than litigation. Where there are children involved all parents would like to believe that they can put the children first and collaborative divorce allows them to show each other that they are doing that. Minimising conflict benefits children and collaborative law works to remove conflict from the relationship breakdown.
What makes it different from the traditional litigation process?
Although important to lawyers, for many clients these are matters of nuance.
- The duties of a lawyer are different, they are working with rather than against the other lawyer;
- They are not aiming for the best outcome for their client at the expense of the other party, but seeking the best outcome for the family overall and for any children as a priority, and
- They have to be prepared to share their advice to their client with the other spouse and lawyer.
It does need to be pointed out that if the process fails to reach agreement, then the couple has to move to new lawyers to take up their case. This is the case even if it is the actions of only one party that breaks the process. This is viewed by some as the biggest disincentive to collaborative divorce. However, this is an essential feature of collaborative law, as it means that the lawyer has an investment in the success of the process. No lawyer likes to fail, and as the process itself is not about winning or losing, the lawyers’ goal becomes to achieve a positive outcome – a binding agreement – for the clients.
A final word
The challenge in collaborative law is in dealing with emotive issues in the same room as your spouse, in a civilised way. It can be painful to dismantle a marriage in this way and some people find having to discuss the consequences of a separation that they may not have wanted or even anticipated with their spouse, to be very difficult. The help of a family consultant can be invaluable here but even where that does not happen, the lawyers are dealing with emotions and feelings that mean the process goes beyond the hard facts and figures on a page. This can be turned into one of the great benefits of the process, as it allows a couple to identify what is important to them, which may be different from what a Judge in a courtroom would have prioritised.