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Collaborative approach to divorce

Traditionally when a relationship ended the options were limited. Solicitors letters were exchanged and if that failed, court proceedings, with the accompanying expense followed.

Now we have other options, all couples must consider mediation before proceeding to court, where they sit with a trained Mediator to help them resolve their issues.

Alternatively, there is the collaborative approach. Introduced to the UK in 2003, it aims to allow the couple to work together with their respective solicitors to reach a solution which works for the whole family.

Both parties will instruct a Collaboratively trained lawyer and instead of lots of letters to and fro, or court proceedings and potential acrimony, they will agree to work through their issues and resolve them together, in a series of meetings. Their solicitors will be there to guide and steer them, but it is very much the parties and their solicitors working together, rather than a “them” and “us”.

Over 3 or 4 meetings, the couple will follow an agenda and deal with the problems they face. A collaborative approach is not limited to children or finances, the way that court proceedings are, rather any issue can be discussed, whether that is the future of the family home, contact arrangements or issues the court do not want to be involved with, such as the future of a family pet. Over these meetings the couple will reach agreement, and with the support of their lawyer finally be in a position to sign a Consent Order for submission to Court regarding the finances or an agreement for other issues.

The Collaborative process can represent a significant saving from court proceedings. Many solicitors will offer it on a fixed fee basis, and therefore the couple go into it knowing what the cost will be. Costs can get out of hand when many letters are written or received, this avoids all of that, as virtually all discussions will take place in the face to face meetings.

Clearly this approach does not work for everyone, a particularly bitter or acrimonious separation means the parties are unlikely to be able to be in the same room and have a constructive conversation, and if one party feels dominated by the other, it may not be appropriate, but for many couples determined to end their marriage as easily as possible, the Collaborative approach can be very successful. 

Julie Hobson, is a qualified Collaborative lawyer