TSP has one Resolution trained Collaborative Lawyer, Louise Margiotta

All collaboratively trained lawyers join a local practice group called a ‘POD’. The POD meets up regularly with collaboratively trained members of other professions to discuss practice issues. Meeting in this way helps lawyers and other professionals to work more effectively together on collaborative cases. More information on the Colchester POD and its members can be found here.

The Collaborative Process: The collaborative law process is a relatively new non-court dispute resolution option. The way collaborative law works is that the couple both instruct their own collaborative lawyer from whom they each receive guidance and legal advice throughout the process. A collaborative lawyer is a family lawyer who has received additional specialist training, normally from Resolution, and who is qualified to undertake such work. The couple and their respective collaborative lawyers all sign an agreement (known as a participation agreement) committing them to use the collaborative law process to reach an agreement rather than going to court.

A series of 4-way face to face meetings will then follow, which each party and their respective collaborative lawyers attend. The purpose of the meetings is to work things out face to face rather than go to court. The process, whilst being a relatively new option, has a good success rate.

If necessary, independent and impartial third parties who are familiar with collaborative law can be brought into the process to assist the discussions, such as independent financial advisors, family consultants, child specialists, accountants or a collaboratively trained barrister. All of these professionals can help to make up a collaborative law team.

One of the reasons why collaborative law is so successful is because, in the unlikely event that an agreement cannot be reached between the couple and the collaborative law process breaks down, both of the collaborative lawyers are prevented from representing the couple in subsequent court proceedings. This means the couple and their collaborative lawyers are committed from the outset to reaching a solution and working things out together, though in practice a conciliatory approach is adopted by the majority of family lawyers even if not using the collaborative process.  Clients who opt for the collaborative process must be prepared to change to a different firm of solicitors if the process does not result in an agreement.

Collaborative law is suitable for all types of family law related matters. One of the main advantages of negotiating an agreement outside of the court process is that couples can set the agenda according to what matters most to them and their family. The pace of the process can be adapted to suit the individual couple so that they can work things out as quickly as they wish rather than in accordance with a strict court timetable. In cases where it is felt that there may be a need to impose a structure and timetable by making a court application, the collaborative process would not be appropriate.

The number of collaborative meetings required to reach a settlement varies from case to case and is wholly dependent on the couple, the family and their circumstances. Some cases are settled in a couple of meetings, whereas others may take four or five meetings. The couple and their collaborative lawyers will agree how often the meetings are to take place, what issues will be discussed, and what information will be needed for each meeting.

As with mediation, if the case involves finances the couple will be required to provide full and frank financial disclosure during the process. Without a willingness to disclose fully and honestly all information about their respective financial circumstances the collaborative process will not work.

Collaborative law is most suited for couples who wish to avoid the uncertainties of the court-based system. It is for people who want to reach their own agreement rather than have one imposed on them in a courtroom by a stranger and who believe that the collaborative process gives them a realistic prospect of achieving this. The parties benefit from legal advice without risking the threat of court action during the negotiations as all those involved are committed to working together to find the best solutions. Once an agreement is reached in collaborative law, the lawyers will deal with implementing the agreement and recording it in a formal document usually by way of court order.

When couples involved in relationship breakdown have a genuine wish to reach their own amicable agreement without embarking on costly court proceedings (both from an emotional and financial point of view), they should consider collaborative law. This is particularly the case when children are involved given that the couple will remain parents even after their separation. It is widely accepted that children cope better with family breakdown if they can see that their parents are working the arrangements out together. The collaborative law process can assist in this regard by creating an environment whereby it is possible for couples to reach solutions together to ease the pain of family breakdown.