Divorce takes a huge toll on time, emotions and financial resources often being sacrificed. However, there is another less adversarial way and one which is based on a more solution-oriented approach. Data published by the Office for National Statistics shows an increase of 4.9% in the number of divorces since 2009. With divorces now exceeding 120,000 each year, the simple fact is that nearly one half of all marriages end in divorce. With a decrease in the number of marriages and more people living together, it follows that a similar number of unmarried couples are also experiencing relationship breakdown. Whilst the emotional devastation that accompanies the loss of a relationship is sometimes inevitable, the additional pressure of dealing with the issues which follow such as arrangements for the children, who is going to live in the family home and the financial aspects can all be alleviated.
Many divorce lawyers acknowledge that the law is more often than not a blunt and inadequate instrument to deal with these issues. Collaborative Practice is an alternative way for separating couples to work as a team with trained lawyers and other professionals (such as child specialists and financial advisers) to resolve the issues arising from the breakdown of their relationship. It is designed to minimise the hurt, loss of self esteem and anger that frequently occur. The philosophy is built on a belief that although individuals may cease being married, they often have to continue co-parenting. Every aspect of collaborative practice is intended to foster respect and maintain communication for all concerned in a conciliatory and dignified manner, without the stress of going to court. The aim of the collaborative approach is to fundamentally change the way people think about family law. The end of a marriage or relationship is tragic enough; collaborative practice believes the process of divorcing should not add to that pain, but instead help the parties – and any children – to foresee a hopeful future.
How is Collaborative Law different from the traditional legal process? For couples who genuinely seek a fair solution and want to minimise the pain of family breakdown, it may offer the best way forward. At its heart is a fundamental principle which requires the parties and their lawyers to enter into a formal commitment not to refer the issues under discussion to Court or, indeed, to threaten court proceedings. The emphasis is on reaching a dignified and amicable solution. This commitment is pivotal to the process and both parties and their respective collaborative lawyers are required to sign a Participation Agreement. Once signed, if either party wishes to refer the matter to Court then both lawyers must cease to act. The consequence of this is huge as it requires both parties to instruct new lawyers at different law firms. This is critical because the emphasis is not only on the parties, but also their legal team to try and achieve an amicable agreement. The process is unique in that clients and their lawyers meet face-to-face for discussions and negotiations rather than matters being dealt with in correspondence. The meetings require openness about all financial matters and disclosure of assets whether they are jointly owned or held in one party’s name. Discussions surround the needs of the family and solutions are then explored. When there are children, their interests are always given the utmost priority. The end result is a divorce agreement which has been achieved through mutual problem solving and not by someone with little knowledge of the parties’ background or circumstances. This enables the clients i.e. the people who are most important to take control of shaping the final agreement which will ultimately determine their future lives. It is not for everyone, but for those seeking a different and more pragmatic approach, it is a revolution.