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Posted on February 21st 2006 in Family Law

Collaborative Family Law

Collaborative Family Law
Cooperation not Confrontation

For a while we pondered whether to take a vacation or get a divorce. We decided that a trip to Bermuda is over in two weeks, but a divorce is something you always have. —Woody Allen

A new way of doing divorce, called collaborative family law, has been quickly spreading throughout Ontario. CFL, as it has been termed, is an alternative dispute resolution process that promotes cooperation and win-win solutions for all the parties involved in the break up of a marriage.

With collaborative family law, the spouses and their lawyers agree to resolve their differences justly and equitably without resort to litigation. It allows the parties to maintain control of the proceedings, while the lawyers act as legal advisors and negotiation coaches. When successful, this team approach protects the future well-being of the family and its various members, especially the children.

In Canada, collaborative family law first appeared in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Since the introduction of the collaborative family law approach, Medicine Hat’s family court docket has been reduced by almost 85%!

The Advantages
Collaborative family law offers many advantages to all those involved, including the lawyers. The advantages include:
o Doing away with confrontation and games, since litigation cannot be threatened.
o Allowing the parties to work on the real issues of importance to them.
o Expediency, since it is quicker than going to court.
o Significant financial savings for the client.
o Being more energizing and informative for all involved.
o Being less stressful for all involved.
o Protecting the dignity, integrity and long term interests of the family.
o Putting the best interests of the children into the forefront.

The Process
By working as a team, in a cooperative environment, the spouses and lawyers are able to cut through the rhetoric and move directly to the real issues.
o The parties and their lawyers sign a written agreement to work toward a settlement and not to go to court.
o The parties and their lawyers work as a team in order to come up with solutions to the various issues.
o The parties are encouraged to share financial and child experts rather than each hiring their own experts.
o If the team is unable to reach a settlement, such that litigation becomes necessary, the lawyers must withdraw and the parties must each retain a new lawyer.
o Clients conduct settlement discussions with the lawyers by their sides to provide legal advice and to assist in the process. In this way, clients maintain control over decision-making and are empowered to find creative solutions.
o The parties cooperate fully in obtaining and sharing all financial and other important information.

The Parties’ Obligations
In order to make this process work, the parties agree to:
o An open and honest exchange of all information, including financial information.
o Behave in a respectful and ethical manner toward each other.
o Make decisions in the best interest of their children.
o Focus on creative problem solving rather than revenge.

The Lawyers’ Role
The role of the lawyers involved in the collaborative family law process is quite different than the role we’ve come to expect. In this process, the lawyer acts more as an advisor than as the lead negotiator. The lawyer will:
o Help the client find and focus on common interests as well as understand the other party’s concerns.
o Act as part of the team and work toward a creative settlement.
o Facilitate the exchange of information and cooperate on the sharing of all factual information.
o Explain the issues to the client as well as advise the client of the relevant law.
o Help guide the meetings.
o Point out unreasonable expectations.

Further Information
Nicola Savin and Terry Macli, our family law lawyers, have completed the advanced training course for CFL. They are members of the Collaborative Family Law Association and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. If you would like further information about collaborative family law please contact Nicola or Terry. You can also get more information from the following websites: