Collaborative Family Law

What is  Collaborative Family Law?

Collaborative Family Law is a form of family law where the lawyers and their clients sign a contract not to go to court if they can’t work out a property settlement and/or parenting agreement by negotiation. 

Why do people use Collaborative Family Law?

People choose Collaborative Family Law when they don’t want to waste money on adversarial, family court actions or aggressive negotiation tactics.

The process uses a team based approach that can bring other specialists into the process such as coaches, financial specialists, child specialists and so on. 

Why doesn’t everyone use Collaborative Family Law?

Compared to Family Dispute Resolution Collaborative Family Law is significantly more expensive and usually a longer process.

It is also not necessary to have lawyers involved in the negotiation process in cases where the issues are relatively straightforward and/or the people involved are reasonable. 

If there are claims and denials of high levels of family violence, child abuse, threats to relocate a child or other urgent matters the powers of the court may be required.

Collaborative family law works best when the people involved are somewhat reasonable and open to negotiating an agreement and the issues have enough complexity to justify the process.


How does it work?

The start of the process is a Collaborative Contract which clarifies what the lawyers will and won’t do and makes sure that everyone is on the same page.

This is an overview of a typical Collaborative Family Law Contract.

  1. Goals –  this will state something like “the participants wish to resolve their differences by Collaboration instead of going to court”. 

Participants and both lawyers agree to:

  • efficiently focus on the future well-being of the participants and their children,
  • resolve all the participants parenting issues in the best interests of their children,
  • promote a caring, loving and involved relationship between parents and children
  • keep the children out of their differences
  • resolve differences related to the children and their welfare
  • resolve all financial issues between the participants including issues of property division and payment of spousal maintenance and child support.
  • find solutions acceptable to the participants
  • try to reduce the negative emotions, social and financial consequences of the process of separation.

As you can see the goals are much more focused on the family, especially the children than you would find if going to court.  They are much more closely aligned to the purpose and goals of  Family Dispute Resolution (Family Law Mediation).

2. What we will do – this part of the Collaborative Family Law Contract makes it clear what the lawyers and the parties will and won’t do. In short: 

  • use collaborative negotiation strategies which mean first discover what is important to each of the participants, ask and answer any questions they have, gather information and consider options to help meet their goals and reach agreement (if possible)
  • Provide complete, honest and open disclosure of all information including a sworn statement of all income, assets and debts.
  • Discuss the likely outcomes of going to court but not use going to court as a threat to coerce. The lawyers are prohibited from representing their client in court.
  • Use four way meetings whenever  possible
  • Provide the clients with a copy of the protocols that govern the process. Usually provided by the Collaborative lawyers or available from the law society in your state.

How we can help or some practical strategies they can use

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What does Collaborative Family Law Cost?

The cost is determined by the lawyers you work with. They generally charge by hour or set rates for the various meetings and preparation work associated with them. 

Your lawyer should provide you with a written costs disclosure and estimate of costs. If you don’t understand the information the lawyer has provided you about the cost of the process you should ask them to explain it properly to you until you can understand.

It is their responsibility to be transparent about the cost of their services.

It is up to you to hold them responsible.

Rights and obligations pending settlement.

During your Collaborative Family Law process you agree to behave reasonably. For example:
  • Not dispose of any assets except for reasonable living expenses, to generate income or preserve the value of assets, by agreement in writinng or in order to pay for a lawyer to assist with the negotiations.
  • Neither to harrass the other
  • To maintain  all current insurance
  • To not permanently remove the children from where they reside without the permission of the other
  • Not to take on or increase debt for which the other participant is liable without agreement or in the ordinary course of business.
  • To notify the other 14 days in advance of any extraordinary expense required for reasonable living expenses or to generate income.

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by Joanne Law time to read: 3 min
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