Collaborative Family Law
Creative Solutions for Legal Problems

There is a revolution afoot in how lawyers practice family law. It is being led by lawyers across North America who have re-conceptualized their roles as advocates and have restructured their relationships with clients and with other lawyers. They refer to themselves as collaborative law lawyers or collaborative practitioners. Believing that no party truly wins in acrimonious litigation and recognizing that the vast majority of family law matters settle prior to trial, these lawyers have made reaching a negotiated, consensual settlement the explicit goal from the very beginning of the process.

Collaborative Law is a voluntary dispute resolution process where the parties and their lawyers commit to resolving their disputes by negotiation without resort to litigation. The collaborative process seeks to preserve respectful and equitable relations between parties, particularly in situations where an ongoing relationship between them will continue after the immediate dispute is resolved. The goal of the collaborative law process is to maximize the best interests of all parties and avoid the negative economic, emotional and social effects of adversarial proceedings. The collaborative process preserves the parties’ privacy and control over the outcome of their negotiation while at the same time ensuring sound legal representation with advanced dispute resolution skills.

The advantages of collaborative family law are:

  • It creates a cooperative environment with open communications to help meet the needs of you and your children.
  • It establishes a team instead of adversaries. You all work together and retain control of the process.
  • It enables you to bring in expert consultants, such as child and family specialists and financial advisors, to provide valuable perspective.
  • You can schedule meetings without waiting for Court dates. This means you generally spend less time, and as a result, less money.
  • Your issues stay within the collaborative family law setting for more privacy and greater confidentiality.
  • You and your spouse shape the agreement together – which means you both are more likely to honour it and avoid any future returns to Court.

Initially conceived of by a Minneapolis family law practitioner in the early 1990’s, collaborative law entails clients and their lawyers working together toward the sole goal of reaching an efficient, fair, and comprehensive settlement of all issues. Each party and their counsel enter into a contract stating that the lawyer is retained solely to assist the client in reaching a fair agreement and that under no circumstances will the lawyer represent the client if the matter ends up going to court. If the process fails to reach agreement and one of the parties chooses to have the matter resolved in court, the collaborative lawyers are fired. Similarly, if a lawyer comes to the view that his or her client is not acting in good faith (e.g. not producing financial information, negotiating in bad faith, etc.) and the client is unwilling to curb their behaviour, the lawyer must withdraw from acting for that client.

Other professionals such as accountants, financial planners, child experts, family counsellors and divorce coaches who are retained to work within the process are also committed to ensuring the best interests of all concerned and are afforded the benefit of confidential involvement. Collaborative professionals view the process as a healthier alternative to traditional legal processes and clients report a high degree of satisfaction with the outcomes.

Clients who have had their family law matters resolved through the collaborative law process rave about how much better the process is as compared to the more traditional process. The process produces better outcomes for the parties and their families. It is generally faster and cheaper than traditional family law dispute resolution processes.