Collaborative law involves the parties both instructing lawyers and avoiding court by trying to reach an agreement through meetings with each other and their lawyers. All meetings between the parties are carried out face to face with the lawyers present. This approach is designed to encourage the parties to work together, discuss the issues, and come to an agreement, as opposed to having contact via their lawyer’s letters only. It is not possible to instruct any solicitor – the solicitor must have been trained in collaborative law (a ‘collaborative lawyer’).
One or both parties will need to instruct a collaborative lawyer. The first meeting is likely to take place one on one with the party’s own solicitor. If just one party has approached a collaborative lawyer, enquiries will need be made as to whether the other party wishes to consider the collaborative process. If they do, they too must instruct a collaborative lawyer.
Upon entering the collaboration process, each party’s solicitor will sign an agreement that, should an agreement not be reached, they will cease to represent the party.
Once the process has commenced, the parties will attend a number of meetings with lawyers present. They will be encouraged to identify all the issues between them. The lawyers are likely to put a reasonably flexible timetable in place for matters such as disclosure and the appointment of expert witnesses. The appointment of expert witnesses is encouraged where there is a dispute as to the value of the assets (e.g. estate agents for the valuation of the home, pension experts for the valuation of a pension).
Throughout the process, the parties have proper legal advice from each of their solicitors at the meeting. This can be particularly useful where the solicitors have broadly similar views on some issues, as it can lead to some issues being resolved quite quickly, rather than having to go to and fro through correspondence.
If an agreement is reached, the solicitors can draft the necessary documents and file them with the court to be sealed.
Other than the financial disclosure, the discussions in the meetings are privileged and confidential. If the collaborative law process fails, the parties will not be able to rely on the discussions in later court proceedings.