Collaborative Law

Divorce or separation is undeniably one of the most difficult times of life for anyone affected. However, it needn't be destructive.

Through collaborative law, couples can replace the public, emotionally charged setting of the divorce courts with a private, supportive process where they can resolve their differences in their own time.

Collaborative law differs from a divorce court’s approach by promoting respect, with specially trained lawyers to guide the process, rather than everything riding on the decision of a judge. Because in collaborative law, you, your partner and your solicitors agree not to go to court, discussions are more open and less adversarial. This can support you to reach a thoughtful, reasoned settlement that enables you to move on with life.

Read more about the benefits of Collaborative Law, and how it differs from other divorce and separation options in the FAQs below. Or contact us if you have any further questions.

How we can help

At Sharp Family Law, our collaborative solicitors help provide a safe environment in which strong emotions can be defused, allowing you to develop aims for the future. A Collaborative Agreement, signed by you and your lawyers, structures the process – allowing you to work towards settlement at your own pace, without the threat of court intervention.

Our collaborative solicitors are among the most experienced in the Bath and Bristol area. Richard Sharp is also recognised as a leader in the collaborative law community in England and Wales. And in 2006, he conducted the first intercontinental and inter-jurisdictional collaborative practice case with an Attorney in California.

Contact us to arrange a time to talk about whether your case could benefit from a collaborative approach.

Collaborative Law FAQs

  • Your focus is on the future. Collaboration transforms divorce and separation from an adversarial, ‘win/lose’ process into one that’s problem-solving and constructive. Open communication allows you and your partner to express your needs and wishes for the future, and gives you the tools to move on.
  • Your children benefit. Any decisions that affect your children are being made by the two people in the world who know them best and love them most – their parents.
  • You are involved throughout. Face-to-face meetings in the presence of lawyers make negotiations direct and efficient. And, because the collaborative process is structured around your needs, concerns and goals while allowing both parties to be heard, you and your partner can work towards outcomes that you both can live with.
  • You enjoy confidentiality. Problems and financial information are kept private.
  • You work with trained professionals who are important to all areas of your life. Collaborative practice allows you to benefit from the support of child and financial specialists, divorce coaches and other professionals all working together on your team.

No single approach is right for everyone. So Collaborative Law may not be the right option for all cases. But many couples do find collaborative law a welcome alternative to the court process. Collaborative Law could be for you if you both:

  • Want a civilised, respectful resolution of the issues and are willing to focus on solutions rather than blame or revenge
  • Want to maintain a productive working relationship with each other
  • Are co-parenting and want to keep your children’s interests at the forefront
  • Value privacy
  • Wish to control decision making over child care and/or financial arrangements rather than turning them over to a judge
  • Place as much value on the relationship that would exist in the restructured family as on obtaining maximum resources

To determine whether Collaborative Law is right for you, ask yourself whether these values are important to you:

  • “I want to maintain a tone of respect, even when we disagree.”
  • “I want to prioritise the needs of our children.”
  • “My needs and those of my spouse require equal consideration, and I will listen objectively.”
  • “I believe that working creatively and co-operatively solves issues.”
  • “It is important to reach beyond today’s frustration and pain to plan for the future.”
  • “I can behave ethically toward my spouse.”
  • “I choose to maintain control of the divorce process with my spouse, and not relegate it to the courts.”

If you can say “yes” to these basic principles, then Collaborative Law may be for you.

Before you begin, you and your partner must decide whether you can work constructively together in an open, honest way. Collaborative Law is for those who, instead of focusing on achieving the largest financial reward regardless of the cost, wish to find solutions that will benefit the whole family. Once you’ve decided to try Collaborative Law, you will go through the following steps:

  1. You and your partner each instruct a specialist collaborative family lawyer. You can see a list of trained collaborative practitioners practising in the South and South West of England at
  2. You both agree with your lawyers to work together as a team and to resolve issues without going to court. All must be willing to sign up to a Collaborative Participation Agreement committing to this approach. In addition, the lawyers contractually agree to serve as ‘settlement counsel’, barring them from ever representing their client in court in the case.
  3. You and your partner, accompanied by your chosen collaborative lawyers, meet in ‘face to face’ meetings, sometimes called four-way meetings.
  4. At these meetings, your lawyers are there to provide support, legal advice and guidance. They also help you to conduct interest-based negotiations that focus on needs, not rights, and to work toward a parenting and financial plan that you can both accept.
  5. You can enlist other experts to help as part of the team. Additional experts, such as divorce coaches and child and financial specialists, may join the process and meetings as and when you need them to.
  6. Meetings are based on the prompt, honest and open disclosure of all information. Collaborative Law depends on you and your partner being clear about your needs and expectations, especially concerning the well-being of your children. The final separation or divorce agreement will be the result of mutual problem solving.
  7. If it happens that the process breaks down and either party decides to go to court to contest an issue, both collaborative lawyers remove themselves from the case and, if needed, arrange alternative representation for the parties. This means, unlike all other legal processes, the risk of failing to achieve a settlement out of court is distributed in a very large part to the lawyers, as well as the parties.

The role of the collaborative lawyer in the process is to:

  • Help clients work through their issues in a series of meetings at a pace they both find comfortable
  • Encourage their client and the other party to share key information honestly and promptly
  • Help defuse differences and keep clients focused on their children’s best interests
  • Advise on how the law might apply to their client’s individual situation
  • Help clients to reframe their thinking, develop goals as opposed to taking positions, identify and debate options, and to make good and ethical choices
  • Facilitate the creation of a range of possible settlements for clients that might not normally be available in court, but are tailored to their individual circumstances and aims for the future.

Collaborative Practice differs from a Divorce Court process by promoting respect and by keeping control of the process between the separating or divorcing couple, and not with a judge. Because couples and their lawyers agree not to go to court, this means that the process is more open and less adversarial. It also means the parties have far greater control over the divorce process and its outcome, and they can work together towards mutually beneficial solutions.

In Collaborative Law:

  • The parties are represented by their lawyers throughout the entire process.
  • The lawyers can draft a settlement agreement.
  • The parties and their lawyers sign a Collaborative Practice Agreement in which they agree not to go to court, with the lawyers agreeing to serve as ‘settlement counsel’ only, which prevents them from ever representing their client at court.

In mediation:

  • The parties hold discussions guided by an impartial mediator, who cannot give legal advice or advocate for either party. This means the parties must instruct separate lawyers, whom they can ask to be present during the discussions, or consult between sessions.
  • The mediator can prepare a draft of settlement terms discussed by the parties, which must then be reviewed by independent lawyers.
  • If mediation doesn’t lead to a settlement, the parties can instruct their chosen lawyers to represent them at court.

So you can move on with the confidence and peace of mind that you’ve protected what’s most important to you, there are times when working with other professionals can be helpful. Child specialists can work with parents to create a parenting plan that works best for the children. Financial specialists help gather, analyse and interpret financial information. And family consultants or divorce coaches can assist individuals to manage difficult emotions and keep communications on track.

These experts can be part of your collaborative team. You and your ex partner would hire them together, and they would act as neutral advisers to you both. It’s important to remember they cannot later act as expert witnesses if the case does go to court.

More information

“Collaborative Practice puts the kids first, All the decisions are what we made – not the lawyers or the judges. It gave us control over the outcome of our divorce.”

“I tell people that you can choose collaborative or spend £25,000 and a lot of sleepless nights on a traditional divorce because Collaborative Practice expedites the process. The normal ritual is to demoralise the other party. Collaborative builds trust and finds closure.”

“I have heard many a tale over my years from my more unfortunate colleagues on the shocking amounts of money both they and their ex-wives have been prepared to spend in order to satisfy their individual needs during the divorce process, and the sad extent of residual animosity that invariably results from these scenarios; I am extremely relieved that my ex and I could settle our affairs through the collaborative process and I am surprised that even now there is not a greater proportion of my colleagues who do the same.”

  • ResolutionResolution’s 6000 members are family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. The website contains a directory of those family lawyer members in England & Wales who have taken Collaborative Law training.
  • International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP)The IACP is an international community of 3,000 or more legal, mental health and financial professionals working in concert to create client-centred processes for resolving conflict. The website contains information on Collaborative Practice and Collaborative Professionals worldwide.