“My husband says we’ll save a lot of money using the collaborative approach because we will share a lawyer. Is that really how collaborative law works?”
With collaborative law, you and your husband will each have your own family lawyer who has completed additional training in the collaborative-law process.
Most of the work during the collaborative-law process will take place in four-way meetings with you and your divorce lawyer, and your husband and his divorce lawyer. During these meetings, you will be able to receive advice from your lawyer and have your lawyer advocate for your interests. This is one of the main differences between collaborative family law and divorce mediation. With mediation, both parties work with one divorce mediator, and then each party receives independent legal advice from their own lawyer.
The collaborative-law process will generally still save you money, however, because the parties and the lawyer commit to avoid the court system. In fact, once a family lawyer has signed the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement in a case, he or she cannot represent the client in court if the process breaks down. This gives both the parties and the lawyer an extra incentive to come to an agreement.
Another way in which collaborative law can be more effective than the traditional family-law approach is the focus on interest-based negotiation. Instead of taking hard-and-fast positions, each party instead discusses their interests. For example, instead of saying, “I demand $5,000.00 per month,” a party may say, “I will need enough money to cover the regular household expenses, without going back to work until the children are in school full-time.” This allows for discussion about the best ways to meet those interests, including brainstorming possible solutions and seeking advice from outside experts when needed. When you use other experts, such as real-estate appraisers or pension valuators, there is generally an agreement to jointly hire that expert, so that the expense is not duplicated. Once an agreement is reached, each party is more likely to feel that it is fair and that it wasn’t imposed upon them or agreed to under pressure.
In the long run, avoiding the court system and having an agreement which both parties are following willingly will result in considerable cost savings.
Toronto barrister and solicitor Cynthia Lauer’s Richmond Hill practice is dedicated exclusively to family law. She specializes in divorce, separation agreements, collaborative family law, child custody and access, child and spousal support, and restraining orders.