May 11

Collaborative law offers Chichester residents a no-court alternative


As family solicitors with offices in Chichester and Alton, we understand that couples facing separation and divorce in Hampshire and West Sussex may feel over whelmed and worried about the future. Collaborative law is a structured process that provides parties with an alternative to going to Court and deals with the issues that arise in a constructive and non-confrontational way.

What is the collaborative process?
Under the collaborative process, each person appoints their own collaboratively trained solicitor and through a series of round table meetings you and your collaboratively trained solicitors will work together to resolve the issues that have arisen following the breakdown of your relationship.

The process means you will have your solicitor by your side every step of the way offering you support and legal advice. The collaborative process is very much driven by the client’s and allows them to work as a team with trained professionals with respect for each other and without having to go to Court.

The solicitors and clients sign a Participation Agreement, which provides that if the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the solicitors withdraw from the case and the parties will seek new solicitors. This ensures that everybody is fully committed to the process and gives everybody an incentive to reach an agreement through collaborative discussion.

What are the benefits of collaborative law?

• Collaborative law is very different from the litigation or Court process. It reduces hostility and encourages communication with the spouses and solicitors working closely as a team. This is important especially when you hope to remain amicable and maintain the lines of communication with your ex-partner, maybe you have children together and will need to continue to work together to co-parent.

• One of the benefits of the collaborative process is that it is not driven by the timetables imposed by the Courts and so the process can be built around your family’s needs and priorities.

• In collaborative law it is easier to identify quickly what the issues are and to sort them out.

• You can be more creative in finding solutions when sitting around a table together and be more constructive about what will work for your family.

• You are able to remain in control of the process with your solicitor by your side rather than handing over such important decision making to your solicitor or to a complete stranger (a judge)

Is collaborative law suitable for everybody?
The collaborative process is not suitable for everyone and if you have any doubts it would be best to discuss these with your solicitor at your first meeting. The collaborative process will not be suitable for any body looking to seek revenge against their soon to be ex-spouse or seeking aggressive representation.

How is collaborative law different from mediation?
Within the mediation process your solicitors would not accompany you to the mediation appointments. Instead the mediator is prohibited from giving you or your partner any legal advice and instead the mediator is there to facilitate you both and will advise you each to seek your own independent legal advice. In contrast, with the collaborative option, your solicitor would attend the meetings with you. One important difference is that anything that is agreed during the mediation process is not binding and will only become binding once you had both had the option of seeking legal advice and the agreement has been incorporated within an order of the Court, which would be drafted by a solicitor. The same solicitor could act for you in the collaborative process and the subsequent divorce proceedings.

Mediation may well be the cheaper option in comparison to the collaborative route and this is something that should be kept in mind but ultimately this will depend on the number of meetings and level of representation you are seeking. Both the mediation and collaborative process are likely to be considerably cheaper than the traditional Court option.

Collaborative law may be the preferred option for clients that may feel vulnerable or lack negotiation skills or feel they may be less financially knowledgeable in comparison to their spouse or partner.

What is the process?

• Once you and your spouse have decided that the collaborative process is the best choice for you, then you would each appoint a collaboratively trained solicitor. All collaborative solicitors belong to a local ‘Pod’ and meet regularly to discuss practice issues. Meeting in this way helps the solicitors work more effectively on a collaborative basis.

• Once you have both appointed your respective solicitor, the legal representatives will meet together or have a telephone conference in order to plan the first four way meeting.

• At the first four way meeting both solicitors will make sure that you both understand the process and that you are making a commitment to resolve any outstanding issues without going to Court. You will both sign the Participation Agreement at this meeting. Both you and your partner will be invited to share your own objectives and what you hope to achieve from this process. An agenda will then be drawn up for the next meeting.

• If there is time at the first meeting you can discuss how financial information is to be shared and dealt with during the process.

• The number of subsequent meetings will depend on the number of outstanding issues and the length of time it takes for the parties to ensure they have reached an agreement that is right for them.

• At the final meeting the documents recording the agreement you have reached will be signed. Both solicitors will talk you through what will need to be done in order to implement the agreement.

What are my options?
Once you have decided to separate it will probably help to talk through the options available to you in detail. To summarise the options available to you would be :-

• The traditional Court process

• Mediation

• Negotiation between solicitors through correspondence

• Collaborative law

For more information on divorce or separation, or to arrange a free no-obligation legal consultation to discuss any family issue, please call our Chichester office on 01243 850860, or our Alton office on 01420 544 273. We are here to listen. We are here to help.