You are not alone, if you are thinking of getting divorced. Sadly, around 150,000 people get divorced every year and almost 40% of all marriages end in divorce in England and Wales.
But maybe you and your spouse agree on one thing: you don’t want a bitter fight. You are determined to avoid the ugly battles over property and child custody that you have seen others endure. You care about the emotional and financial wellbeing of your family and, in particular, your children. You want to be able to dance at their weddings.
If so, a “collaborative divorce” could work for you.
In one recent divorce case that I handled Mrs T of Castle Cary and her husband were keen for their divorce to be as amicable as possible and found that a Collaborative divorce or practice process was the right solution for them.
Mrs T remarked that the relaxed nature of the process came as a complete surprise, and that she had no idea that getting a divorce could be so painless. “All four of us – my husband and I and our two lawyers – signed up to a mission statement to ensure we all communicated openly. Our four-way face-to-face meetings meant that everything moved through smoothly, swiftly and cheaply.”
The dispute resolution method called Collaborative Law or Collaborative Practice aims to minimise the emotional and financial costs of divorce, by the separating or divorcing couple agreeing to reach a fair settlement without court involvement.
In this process, the couple each instruct and is represented by a specially trained collaborative family lawyer. Together, all four – the two spouses and the two collaborative lawyers – must sign a legally binding agreement to remain respectful, negotiate in good faith, provide full and early disclosure of relevant information and attend to the needs of each party.
But perhaps most importantly, a collaborative agreement requires all four participating parties to agree not to threaten to take the other to Court. In other words, it is an agreement to agree.
At the end of the collaborative process, the settlement reached can be filed with the Court to approve and sealed as an Order. However, if the divorcing couple is unable to reach a settlement or there is a breakdown in good faith, both collaborative lawyers instructed must remove themselves from the case, leaving the parties to continue the divorce proceedings with new lawyers.
It is true that the majority of divorce cases in England and Wales handled by experienced family lawyers do end up getting settled out of Court. But, by removing the threat of going to Court, with all the accompanying costs, risks and emotional turmoil, the atmosphere of collaborative meetings significantly changes.
When the agenda concentrates on settlement, and the sole measure of success of the lawyers involved is achieving an agreement that their clients can accept, a massive leap forward in problem solving effort occurs. Instead of animosity, everyone works together to find solutions that best benefit the divorcing couple and their families.
When asked if she would recommend Collaborative Law to others, Mrs T said: “without a doubt. If fact, I would rave about it.”
Will a collaborative divorce truly improve the chances that you will dance at your children’s weddings, and reduce the stress of divorce on you and on them? Every couple is different, and a collaborative divorce is not for everyone. But, there can be no doubt that collaborative law is one way to achieve divorce with dignity.