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Collaborative Law – How it works

Often known as “the respectful divorce”, collaborative divorce is a dispute resolution model where separating couples work together to reach a mutually acceptable agreement, which benefits both and disadvantages neither of them.  Most importantly – the couple agrees from the outset that there will be no Court intervention.

Although each party has their own collaboratively-trained lawyer, it is the separating couple who jointly:

  • set the agenda

  • set the pace

  • determine the parameters

  • drive the process

  • make the decisions 

The Collaborative Contract 

At the start of the process, the separating couple sign a contract which includes (but is not limited to) binding promises that they will both:

  • be open, honest and respectful throughout the process

  • be forthcoming and comprehensive with their financial disclosure

  • focus on the wellbeing and best interests of their children

  • promote a positive relationship between the children and both parents

  • focus on the future wellbeing of the family

  • work to reduce the negative consequences of the divorce/separation on the both of them (particularly financial and emotional)

  • be considerate of each other’s concerns and goals (immediate and long-term)

  • work together to reach an agreement that works for the family 

Most significantly, the contract contains a provision that the parties will not threaten to or actually start Court proceedings.  This is arguably the most powerful aspect of the collaborative contract, as it affords the separating couple with great comfort in knowing that the collaborative process is not merely a pit-stop or “last ditch effort” before the final destination: Court.  It also serves as a declaration of good will, respect, and dedication to resolution between the parties and their lawyers.

Face to Face Meetings 

Discussions and negotiations are conducted via a series of face-to-face meetings, with the separating couple and their lawyers present, as well as any relevant neutral advisor/s.

The lawyers do not exchange long letters, and any written communication is respectful and constructive.

The number of meetings will vary from case-to-case, but again, the separating couple are in control.

Financial issues 

If there are valuation issues, accounting issues, businesses, complex structures, or budgeting issues, a third party neutral expert (e.g. a collaboratively trained accountant or a valuer) can be appointed.  This “financial neutral” works mutually and for the benefit of both parties, attending meetings if/when necessary.

A collaboratively trained financial advisor can also be jointly appointed to assist in:

  • gathering information about the family’s finances

  • addressing immediate financial concerns of the family

  • preparing household budgets

  • working with the parties to identify their financial goals/interests

  • ensuring the parties’ financial concerns are heard, understood, and considered

  • modelling/mapping the immediate and long-term outcome/effect of various settlement pathways

  • making recommendations as to the allocation of financial resources

  • long-term financial planning 

Child Expert 

If there are co-parenting issues or complex children’s issues, a child neutral expert (e.g. psychologist, social worker) may be jointly appointed to assist the family to:

  • understand how the parents/children are feeling

  • understand the children’s developmental and emotional needs

  • help identify and discuss the parents’ hopes, goals and concerns for the children

  • work through communication issues and devise strategies to assist them

  • work through day-to-day parenting issues as well as long-term parenting decisions/issues

  • agree upon a parenting arrangement that will work for the family 

Giving control back to separating couples 

A collaborative divorce is more than dividing assets and drawing up a calendar for the children’s arrangements.  It provides a family with the opportunity to thoughtfully and constructively examine where the family is now, where they are going, and how they might get there, in a way that benefits them all.

In an age where we value a mindful, holistic approach to our health care, our working life and general existence, it makes sense that we approach divorce in a holistic, mindful, and constructive way.