Information About Collaborative Family Law
Collaborative Family Law (also called Collaborative Practice, Collaborative Divorce, “No-Court Divorce, and “Divorce with Dignity”) is a way for separating spouses and common-law partners to resolve all their issues without going to court. Collaborative Family Law was developed by Stu Webb, a Minnesota lawyer, in 1990 and should be better known as an option for separating and divorcing couples. Collaborative Family Law has helped thousands of couples in Ontario and across Canada end their relationships amicably and with respect, which is paramount when children are involved.
In a nutshell, Collaborative Family Law is a problem-solving process that deals with your issues in efficient, effective, and creative ways to help each of you go your separate ways.
What is Collaborative Family Law?
In Collaborative Family Law, spouses and common-law partners commit to:
not having family court decide their issues;
negotiate a mutually-acceptable Separation Agreement;
share necessary information and maintain open communication throughout the process; and
create mutually-beneficial solutions while agreeing on their highest priorities.
Is Collaborative Family Law a good option for you, rather than the court-based separation process?
If you can pledge not to go to court, if you can commit to mutual respect and cooperation during separation, and you are willing to provide and share the information needed to complete a Separation Agreement and a Parenting Plan if you have children, then Collaborative Family Law may be a good option for you.
Will Collaborative Family Law Work for You?
Separation and divorce are personal, emotionally charged, and stressful. No single approach is right for everyone. Many couples do find the no-court process known as Collaborative Family Law a welcome alternative to the often destructive, adversarial, blaming and expensive aspects of conventional divorce.
If these affirmative statements are important to you, Collaborative Family could be a good option for you and your spouse or common-law partner:
I want to prioritize the needs of our children ahead of our own issues;
I can behave ethically toward my spouse during the separation process;
It is more important to plan for my future rather than focus on frustration and pain;
I believe that working creatively and cooperatively solves issues;
I want to maintain a tone of respect, even when we disagree; and
My needs and those of my spouse require equal consideration.
I choose to maintain control of our separation process with my spouse, and not relegate it to family court.
How does the Collaborative Family Law Process Start?
To start, each spouse or common-law partner selects and retains a family lawyer who is trained in Collaborative Family Law.
Next, both spouses or common-law partners and their respective lawyers sign a formal, written Participation Agreement that focuses everyone on a successful resolution of all their issues. The Agreement specifically states that the collaborative lawyers and other professional team members are disqualified from participating in litigation if the collaborative process ends without reaching an agreement. So, in the event that a collaborative effort does not resolve your separation in a satisfactory way, both spouses will need to retain different lawyers, and essentially start the entire process over again—a strong incentive to stick with Collaborative Family Law and reach a Separation Agreement.
Because separation and divorce often involve challenging financial, emotional, or child-related issues, you may want the support of other collaborative professionals in addition to Collaborative Family Lawyers. These collaborative professionals can generate options and make mutually-acceptable choices about financial and parenting issues. Professionals such as these can help you resolve issues important to both of you:
A neutral child specialist, such as a child psychologist, can provide insight into concerns of the children and help craft parenting plans.
A neutral financial specialist, such as a Chartered Accountant (CA), a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), or a Chartered Business Valuator (CBV) can help gather and explain financial information and create future financial projections for settlement options.
A family professional, such as a divorce coach or a social worker, can help you and your partner improve communication and manage conflict.
How Does Collaborative Family Law Work in Practicality?
Having selected your collaborative team of chosen specialists, you begin a series of face-to-face meetings to discuss the important issues between you that need to be settled, such as: child custody; child access; child support; special and extraordinary expenses for children; spousal support; how the matrimonial home will be divided; division of net family property including any pensions, investment accounts, and real estate holdings.
Having a clear understanding about needs and expectations, you and your spouse or common-law partner have a frank exchange of information to settle your respective issues (above) in a respectful and dignified way, keeping the best interests of your children foremost in mind.
Whatever the number of meetings you and your spouse or common-law partner will need, Collaborative Family Law is generally a less expensive route than family litigation, resulting in 5-figure or even 6-figure divorce trials in family court that can go on for weeks.
Once you and your spouse or common-law partner reach agreement successfully, it is documented in a Separation Agreement.
Importantly, Collaborative Family Law is respectful, dignified, future-focused for you and your spouse or common-law partner. Collaborative Family Law was designed to ease the stress and high emotions of separation while keeping the needs of your children front-and-centre.
It is difficult to predict in advance if you and your spouse or common-law partner will need 5 meetings, or 25 meetings—or more—with your team of Collaborative Family Lawyers and other specialists.
6 Benefits of Collaborative Family Law
1. The Collaborative Family Law process is based on compromise, fair play, listening, and being heard for both spouses or common-law partners. Future needs of both are considered as well as the needs of your children.
2. You each get to settle your issues rather than having a judge impose a decision on you that you may not agree with, but will have to abide by.
3. It is generally less expensive than litigation. Family lawyer fees and court costs can add up quickly.
4. The Collaborative Family Law process generally takes less time than litigation. Family courts are backlogged in many parts of Ontario.
5. Because you are actively helping to craft your separation, your stress and anxiety are reduced. You are an active participant in the process.
6. You are teaching your children that it is important to work out your own problems. Marriages and long-term relationships may not last, but those relationships can change and evolve to positive ones over time.