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Dealing with Separation in a Better Way

The Benefits of Collaborative Law

By Jean S. Beaton


When people come to see me for an initial consultation after a separation, they often list similar priorities. That is, people want to resolve matters quickly and cost-effectively while remaining amicable, to the extent that this is possible.


I make a point to discuss with clients the benefits of various forms of dispute resolution, ensuring that we find a best fit tailored for each person’s unique situation. Most people would choose to avoid an embroiled court battle, which entails being held hostage by a back-logged court schedule, increased costs and often huge delays between appearances, if given a choice. People who have recently separated are often feeling vulnerable, and the last thing they want to do is expose the intimate details of their lives in an open court.


Collaborative Law, also known as Collaborative Practice, is a way to resolve disputes stemming from separation respectfully while working with trained professionals who help you craft an agreement that makes sense for your family. In the collaborative model each party retains their own lawyer, who will work to protect your interests and offer you guidance and support throughout the process. Other professionals, such as a financial professional and a mental health professional (such as a parenting coach) are often employed to assist in specific areas of the process.


The key elements of Collaborative Law are:


  1. A commitment to negotiate a settlement outside of court;
  2. Transparency; and
  3. Establishing priorities and creating mutually agreeable solutions.


An important element of Collaborative Law is the agreement to stay out of court. Both parties and their respective lawyers enter into a contract committing to resolving things peacefully. This contract provides motivation for everyone involved to remain focussed on the goals established by the family. In the event that settlement discussions fall apart and one party decides to commence a court application, then neither lawyer can continue acting for their respective client. The client’s must retain new lawyers to represent them in court and must go through the entire process of sharing their story to fresh ears.


Transparency is essential for a successful collaborative file. Both parties are expected to provide full disclosure upfront, answer questions openly and share information with everyone involved. This element helps reduce the hostility that is often present in family disputes as clients are encouraged to ask questions, address concerns and create solutions with the assistance of their lawyers and the other professionals that may be involved in the file. Because the aim is to help people reach their own mutually agreed solutions, it is important that both parties understand their respective rights and obligations before they commit themselves to any agreement.


Lastly, unlike the litigation route, in the collaborative approach you get to decide what issues should be addressed and resolved first. In a traditional litigation matter before the courts clients can find themselves waiting months before they are able to address a fairly straightforward matter. In your first collaborative meeting you will be encouraged to identify the issues for resolution and rank them in order of priority.


The collaborative model often involves a series of group meetings, each of which has a particular objective.  The atmosphere is respectful and fair and both parties should feel comfortable speaking to either lawyer or professional present at the meeting. Throughout the process you are free to meet with your lawyer one-on-one at any time to receive guidance. The goal of the negotiations is to obtain a mutually agreed settlement that will be reflected in a separation agreement drafted by the lawyers. This is a legally binding document that will outline the resolution of all issues stemming from the breakdown of the relationship.


The collaborative model bears many benefits for the business professional. This model offers flexibility in terms of scheduling meetings and offering options to fit your needs. The collaborative team is open to meeting outside of regular business hours, over the lunch hour, or any other time that works best for you. This model is often faster in achieving a final resolution. The presence of all parties at group meetings, combined with the requirement of transparency encourages people to remain focussed on the goals. The collaborative approach also has the added benefit of being more cost-effective as tasks traditionally completed by the lawyers are assigned to specialist professionals at a savings to the clients.


Lawyers must receive training and certification to be able to offer the collaborative service. To see the list of lawyers who offer Collaborative Practice in the Niagara Region and to find out more about this approach please visit www.collaborativepracticeniagara.com.


Jean Beaton is an Associate lawyer with the Family Law practice area at Lancaster Brooks & Welch LLP. She is certified to offer Collaborative Practice and she may be contacted for a discussion about this area of her practice at 905-641-1551.


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