Collaborative Practice

Collaborative PracticeCollaborative Practice, also called Collaborative Law, is an enlightened alternative to the court process that is growing rapidly throughout the world. The hallmarks of Collaborative Practice are an early focus on settlement, attention to interests as well as legal entitlements, and direct client involvement and participation. The parties enter into a contract, the Participation Agreement, in which they agree to act in good faith, make early full disclosure, negotiate respectfully, put their children first, and work to achieve a settlement acceptable to both parties. The lawyers are hired solely to facilitate settlement – if the case does go to court, the clients hire litigation counsel. This allows the parties to negotiate safely, without the threat of court, and encourages the parties and their lawyers to stay at the table, focus on the problem rather than attack each other, and find workable and realistic solutions.

Collaborative Practice invites lawyers to look inward and challenge their thinking and training about how they can best support their clients through separation and divorce. To provide a process allowing partners to divorce with respect requires profound and ongoing changes in approach and mindset.

At a minimum, Collaborative Practice offers a way to stay out of court and reach efficient settlements. At its most expansive, the collaborative process provides an opportunity for healing and personal growth. Collaborative Practice seeks to evolve the practice of law from a competitive, power-based system to a humanistic process of peaceful conflict resolution.

The message of collaboration is being enthusiastically received by clients hungry for a respectful, cost-effective, empowering divorce process and by lawyers who seek meaning and value in their work. Over 30,000 professionals in 25 countries have been trained in this process. In Ontario there are over 500 trained collaborative professionals, with practice groups in every major city. I was among the first lawyers in Ontario to embrace this process. For more than 13 years I have confined my practice to Collaborative Law and mediation. I have successfully resolved hundreds of collaborative cases.

The Benefits of Collaborative Practice

CP produces better outcomes, more efficiently

Parties in adversarial negotiations communicate indirectly through their lawyers, and exchange limited, position-based information. Fear, anger and mistrust often lead to first strike and retaliatory actions. Position taking and blame can polarize the parties and exacerbate conflict. Outcomes are often generalized and limited to those found within the legal model. In contrast, the collaborative process requires direct communication, full immediate information sharing, an exploration of interests and needs and the generation of options from within and beyond the law. Settlements tend to be creative, customized to the unique needs of each family and durable. The collaborative process is often faster and less expensive than traditional court based approaches.

CP respects legal entitlements

While the collaborative process values private agreements over court imposed outcomes, and encourages the parties not to feel restricted by what the law provides, most lawyers recognize the place of the law in determining family matters. Some people require the structure and protection of the law. The law represents community standards of fairness as they evolve from time to time. It provides some measure of predictability and certainty. While collaborative outcomes are often “outside the box”, many collaborative clients develop constructive settlements that align closely with the legal model.

CP protects children

It is universally recognized that the court process can do serious harm to the parties’ ability to co-parent their children during and after divorce. We also know that children are damaged more by conflict between their parents than the divorce itself. The collaborative process promotes good working relationships between parents to minimize the effects of separation on children. Parents are assisted to focus on the needs of their children and learn how to communicate respectfully. They create workable parenting agreements and develop resources and processes for resolving future problems.

CP normalizes the healthy divorce

The adversarial approach assumes that people need strict rules to control their behaviour and cannot resolve their problems themselves. The collaborative model holds a view of people as able, with proper support, to make choices that promote the well-being of their restructured family as well as themselves. Values such as respect, integrity, compassion, efficiency and future focus inform the protocols and principles of the collaborative process. Clients achieve closure of their relationship respectfully, and move on with their lives with some measure of peace.

CP provides the best possible expert service to clients

Collaborative lawyers receive specialized training in interest-based negotiation, effective communication , settlement advocacy and working in interdisciplinary teams. I am committed to deepening my skills as a collaborative lawyer and have received extensive training in this approach. I also teach collaborative law to law students and provide workshops to collaborative professionals across North America and internationally.

When appropriate, neutral Family Professionals and Financial Professionals, who are also trained in the collaborative process, work with collaborative lawyers on interdisciplinary teams to provide the best and most cost-effective expert resources to clients.

Family Professionals are social workers or psychologists with a specialty in divorce, family systems, and children. They can fulfill various roles: helping the parties manage their emotional dynamics, improving their capacity to communicate, providing information about the children’s needs during the separation process, bringing the children’s concerns to the table, mediating parenting plans, facilitating collaborative meetings to keep focused on effective problem solving, and being an ongoing resource to parents for child-related issues.

Financial Professionals are financial planners with training in the financial aspects of divorce or accountants and business valuators. They help the parties collect and understand their financial information, prepare budgets and net worth statements, value businesses and income for support purposes, and contribute to the development of creative, tax efficient options for various support and property division arrangements. Financial Professionals can prepare future projections to allow spouses to assess how well options for settlement meet their immediate and long-term financial goals.

I have developed strong working relationships with Family Professionals and Financial Professionals in Toronto who are the best in their field, both within and outside Chestnut Collaborative Solutions. When appropriate, I also refer my clients to highly skilled actuaries, corporate lawyers, tax lawyers, estates specialists and personal and vocational counsellors.

CP results in settlements

Collaborative Practice, which provides advocacy as well as neutrality, is effective in cases with high conflict, low trust, power differences and complex issues, which may not otherwise be appropriate for mediation.

On average, collaborative cases are resolved in 6 to 9 months, although some are much shorter and some are much longer, depending on the complexity of the issues and the dynamics of the couple. Statistically, 86-91% of collaborative cases settle, with clients reporting a high degree of satisfaction in the process and the outcome.  In my practice, this is a minimum settlement rate. Collaborative clients usually gain an improved ability to communicate and co-parent and learn a process for resolving future issues. They achieve closure of their relationship with a measure of dignity, in a process that delivers value.