Working together, focusing on the future.
What is it?
Collaborative Divorce is a family-focused decision-making process whereby parties work together with their Collaborative Divorce lawyers to find creative solutions to their divorce issues while avoiding court. The parties commit to focusing on the future and to providing full disclosure of all relevant information throughout the process.
Whom is it for?
If you agree with the following statements, Collaborative Divorce may be right for you:
- I want to avoid having the Court decide my future.
- My children’s needs are my priority.
- I want focus on the future.
- I want to reduce conflict between the other party and me.
- I want a quick and efficient resolution of our issues.
- I need my lawyer to help me to understand my rights and obligations before I make long-term decisions for my family.
- With the support of my Collaborative Divorce lawyer, I believe that I can make myself heard and understood.
- I want my lawyer by my side to ensure that my needs and interests are being brought to the table.
How does the process work?
Hire Collaborative Divorce lawyers.
Each party must meet with and retain lawyers who have specific Collaborative Divorce training and whose role is to keep the parties’ discussions focused and relevant to the topics and concerns identified. Collaborative Divorce lawyers have been trained in interest-based negotiations, meaning that lawyers assist the parties to arrive at mutually-satisfactory resolution based on what’s important to them what’s in the entire family’s best interests. The lawyers will provide legal advice throughout the Process to ensure that the parties are informed as long-term decisions are made.
- Sign agreement
Before the Collaborative Divorce process can begin, the parties and their lawyers must review and sign a Participation Agreement which commits all parties to the Process and to avoiding court-imposed resolution.
- Engage in four-way meetings
First meeting: the parties and the lawyers will sign the Participation Agreement, identify each party’s interests (concerns, hopes, expectations, assumptions, priorities, beliefs, fears, values, needs), and create a list of issues and priorities for resolution. Usually time permits for the most pressing issues to be discussed and at least a temporary resolution to be put into place until a longer-term resolution can be reached. A “to do” list is created for all parties at the end of each session so that everyone knows what they must do before or for the following meeting.
Subsequent meetings: we hit the ground running at all subsequent meetings. We address each issue identified for resolution in the order as agreed between the parties. Information is exchanged, solutions are brainstormed, and resolution is reached on each issue.
- Prepare agreement/divorce papers
Once resolution is reached on each topic identified, the lawyers will prepare a legally-binding separation agreement. You will have the opportunity to review the agreement on your own time as well as with your Collaborative Divorce lawyer before it is signed. It is important that you have time to ensure that all the terms that you agreed to are sustainable for you and your family. The lawyers may also finalize your divorce if applicable; you will not be required to attend in court.
How long does it take?
Most families average 2-5 sessions at 2 hours per session, which can mean 2-6 months for full resolution. The factors that determine the length can include: level of conflict between the parties, number of issues to resolve, and the time required between each meeting.
What are the possible outcomes?
- Reduced conflict.
- Usually less expensive resolution than Court.
- Time-effective resolution.
- Foster or improve communication between the parties.
- More clearly understand differences in opinions.
- Empower each party to be heard.
- Make informed and voluntary choices about your future.
- Focus on the needs and interests of the children.
- Create an effective and sustainable co-parenting plan.
- Future dispute resolution becomes easier between the parties.
Collaborative Divorce FAQ
When you come in for your initial consultation, you will tell your story to your lawyer, and then you will learn more about Collaborative Divorce. It is your lawyer’s job to help you to assess which process will be best suited for your situation. By the end of the consultation, you should have a clear picture of all your process options. You should also do your own research before and after the consultation to get as clear of a picture as possible for yourself as to which process will work for your family. You can download the brochure on this website and print it out to have something you can review later. It is our goal to ensure that you are fully informed about all of your options, then it’s up to you to choose the best one.
Collaborative Divorce is client-directed and provides an open line of communication between the parties to assist to resolve all issues quickly and efficiently. In comparison, the litigation process can be lawyer-directed and most often all communication is channeled through the lawyers. The costs of Collaborative Divorce are more controlled than litigation because most of the cost of the former is limited to the time spent in 4-way meetings whereas the cost of the latter is spent creating time consuming paperwork.
Parties who choose Collaborative Divorce usually want to have lawyer involvement in their process as they negotiate with the other party. The lawyer’s role in the Process is to be an advocate for their client, to ensure that their client’s interests are being met and that their voice is being heard. As well, in Collaborative Divorce the lawyers provide legal advice during each 4-way meeting based on the parties’ situation. The parties have the benefit of listening to 2 lawyers’ opinions on all matters, which provides more context for the parties to reach agreement. Although the level of complexity in your situation may cause you to lean towards a Collaborative Divorce as the complexity increases, in fact both processes can handle a great deal of complexity.
Yes. The parties and the lawyers sign a Participation Agreement at the start of the Collaborative Divorce process which states that all discussions and proposals made are confidential for use within the Process only. It is not until the proposals for resolution are actually placed into the form of a Separation Agreement, and signed by all parties, that it becomes legally-binding. If the Process breaks down, then all discussion and proposals are set aside, and may not be used in any litigation process that may follow, unless both parties agree otherwise. If expert reports were obtained during the Process, then those reports may not be used after the Process breaks down without the expert agreeing to its outside use.
You have an opportunity to negotiate, and a right to litigate. This means that you can only have a Collaborative Divorce if both parties agree to enter into the Process. If the one party won’t agree, then you still have a right to resolution, but it will likely be in the litigation environment. The sooner that both parties learn about the various process options available for divorce, the better. Sometimes, parties will enter into the litigation ring without understanding that there are options such as Collaborative Divorce. Even if the other party has chosen a litigation process, you can still talk to them and provide them with information about the Process; it can’t hurt. However, if the other party is not agreeable to retaining a Collaborative Divorce lawyer, then you cannot use the Process.
Collaborative Divorce is client-directed which means that the parties set the topics for resolution that will be covered. The lawyers will assist with creating the list of topics, as sometimes there are elements that have not been finalized in your own agreements outside of the Process. However, if both parties are set on keeping a particular topic “off the table” then that’s ok.
In order to use the Collaborative Divorce Process, you and the other party must hire lawyers trained in Collaborative Divorce. This is important because the very basis for the negotiations in this Process is completely different than litigation. In Collaborative Divorce, lawyers use “interest-based” negotiations to assist you to reach resolution, meaning that the goal is to arrive at mutually-satisfactory resolution based on what’s important to both parties and what’s in the entire family’s best interests. The emphasis is on trying to find a win-win solution.
The litigation lawyer starts from the premise of positional bargaining meaning that the parties start out with a position and think only of their wants and needs. It is adversarial in nature, and usually leads to a win-lose or lose-lose result.
There are times where the Process breaks down. The parties have 2 choices at that point: (1) to enter into agreement regarding the terms that continue to be agreeable by both parties, and the remaining issues can be dealt with by the Court, or (2) to abandon all discussions had and agreements reached during the Process and start afresh in a Court system.
The initial consultation is extremely important in order to ascertain whether a Collaborative Divorce is appropriate for your family. Your Collaborative Divorce lawyer should learn about your situation and ensure that you understand the Process, then assist you to determine your suitability for the Process. This step helps to prevent you from entering into a Process that will not work for you, and may ultimately lead to impasse.
If such a breakdown occurs then you will need to hire new litigation lawyers from different firms to represent you.
Trust between the parties is not required for the Collaborative Divorce process to work. Rather than trust, it is more important that both parties are willing to come to the table to openly discuss all of the issues for resolution and to provide all of the information on which the parties will rely to make their decisions.
If it is a matter of specifically distrusting the other party, there are ways to ensure that the information you are receiving in the Process is accurate and complete and that the agreements that you make are going to be followed by both parties into the future. For instance, to ensure accuracy and completeness of information, the parties can provide a sworn list of assets, debts, income and expenses. If you worry about the agreement being followed, sometimes we can try out an agreement on a short-term or temporary basis to ensure that the terms agreed to are manageable. It can happen that an agreement is made and the parties come to realize that it is not workable in reality; the parties can then return to the Process to revise the agreement to make sure that it’s sustainable.