Converging arrows moving in the same direction

What is Collaborative Family Law? Collaborative law is a process by which separating spouses reach agreements together by way of a series of face to face round table meetings. Parties can deal with issues such as how and when they will separate, their divorce, how they will divide their finances, communication issues, parenting and arrangements for their children.

Each party retains their own lawyer, and takes their own advice throughout the process, but there is a collaborative rather than combative approach. Each party gets a chance to have their say and work together with their spouse in the meetings, with the benefit of professional support.

Meetings are largely client led, with the lawyers and sometimes other neutral third-party professionals (e.g. a financial adviser, accountant or family consultant) sometimes in attendance to offer support and ideas to help clients come up with practical and innovative solutions that work for them.

The process is designed to be amicable, minimise conflict, to maintain and further relationships long term, and to create fair and practical outcomes.

What are the benefits of Collaborative Law?

There are a number of benefits to resolving your family law issues collaboratively:

  • You and your spouse retain control of the process and the outcomes. You will be setting your own agendas and coming to your own agreements, rather than these being dictated to you by a Judge.
  • Negotiations take place entirely via face-to-face meetings. There is no lengthy and unhelpful correspondence back and forth between the parties. The meetings allow both parties to be heard and to set priorities. The outcomes are based on compromise and solutions that work for your whole family.
  • The process is voluntary, informal and less stressful than court. The parties choose the location of the meetings (usually one of the lawyer’s offices). The process is entirely private and there is no risk of private information becoming public, which is possible within the court process due to increased transparency.
  • You and your spouse remain in control of the timetable and the process is efficient. The timetable is not dictated by the court and as such can be built around your needs and priorities. It is difficult to say how many meetings are needed – each case is different – but usually it is between two and five. It is often the case that collaborative cases can be resolved more quickly than via traditional routes. It is therefore also true to say that the process is likely to be cheaper than other methods of dispute resolution, and certainly much more cost effective than going to court.
  • The process encourages less conflict and open communication, which re-enforces co-parenting, and parties’ abilities to move forward with positivity. If parties have been struggling emotionally, it is possible to bring in family therapists or divorce coaches to help support parties through the process.

Can anyone resolve family law disputes via Collaborative Law?

It is possible for the majority of family law disputes to be resolved collaboratively. The process of course suits couples who are both committed to working together, have been open and honest about their priorities and their finances, are prepared to communicate, and want to avoid going to court. Even where the breakdown of the relationship has been difficult, this process works where parties can see the benefits of retaining control and minimising costs and conflict.

The willingness to disclose information about all financial assets is absolutely essential to the process, as it is with all other NCDR options. If one or both parties are not honest and open about their financial disclosure, then the process cannot work. Court proceedings are likely needed to force disclosure. The process is also unlikely to be suitable if there has been any element of domestic abuse (which includes coercive and controlling behaviour).

If your spouse does not want to use the collaborative process, it is still possible to work together to resolve matters amiably and minimise conflict – indeed, all parties have a responsibility to try to do so wherever possible. There are many non-court dispute resolution options (NCDR) including via mediation, or solicitor supported mediation (whereby lawyers attend mediation to advise simultaneously), solicitor negotiation, early neutral evaluation or arbitration. We can provide further advice on all of your options.

What happens if the Collaborative Law process breaks down?

The parties and their teams sign an agreement at the start of the process that commits you to trying to resolve matters without going to court. This means that your collaborative lawyer cannot represent you if your negotiations break down.

The majority of collaborative cases are successful. However, if the process were to break down, it is possible to remain with your lawyer, and use an alternative out of court process to determine any remaining issues, such as Arbitration.

What are the first steps?

If you have decided that Collaborative Law is for you, as a first step you and your spouse need to select lawyers. You would then each meet with your lawyers individually to discuss the process and signing up to a collaborative agreement. The lawyers will then speak directly and set up the first “four-way meeting”.

If we reach an agreement, how is it recorded?

If you reach an agreement within the process, the lawyers will draw up a financial consent order and supporting paperwork so that this can be submitted to the court for approval in the usual way. Provided the court approves the agreement, there is no need to attend court. You and your spouse will then have a binding and enforceable agreement.

Can you help me and suggest a collaborative family lawyer for my spouse?

Each party appoints their own lawyer to assist them. Whilst it is a collaborative process, it is not possible for one lawyer to represent both parties. I am a trained Collaborative Lawyer. If you are interested in the process, I can suggest a number of similarly trained professionals at other firms who I have worked with previously to assist your spouse. Your spouse does not need to choose from the recommended list, but they will need to select a collaborative specialist to use the process. Whilst it is preferable that meetings take place in person (and as such a local lawyer is preferable), the process can be dealt with remotely via video meetings if preferred.

Further details about Collaborative Law can be found on the Resolution website: The collaborative process | Resolution or here: Collaborative law – Get help with child arrangements – GOV.UK (