“My wife is interested in using Collaborative Practice to settle our divorce. We don’t have a history of collaborating terribly well in our marriage: is there any chance this method would work for us?”
Allow me to answer your question by telling you a little about Collaborative Practice, a relatively new form of alternate dispute resolution. According to the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Collaborative Practice is a more constructive way of divorcing that “promotes respect, places the needs of children first and keeps control of the process with the spouses.” The word “collaboration,” however, does not mean that you and your spouse are left to your own devices to settle your divorce. In fact, in Collaborative Practice, an interdisciplinary team of divorce professionals guides you through the process, supporting you and your spouse along the way. Each of you starts by retaining a Collaboratively trained lawyer.
From the outset, all of the parties agree in writing not to go to court. You and your spouse will meet privately with your lawyers as well as together in face-to-face discussions. Additional experts, such as divorce coaches and child and financial specialists, may join the process as part of your Collaborative team. During your sessions together, information can be exchanged and both of you will have a safe place to express your needs and expectations from the process; your lawyer will remain your ally and advisor. Collaborative Practice is especially sensitive to the needs of children. Together, you and your wife would work respectfully together to create a final divorce agreement. Can this be done when you haven’t had a great track record in terms of communicating with one another in the past? Most experts say, “Yes, definitely!” In many cases, couples report that they actually learn important communication skills through the Collaborative process that help them better deal with one another as they co-parent their children. “I firmly believe in Collaborative Practice and, over the past six years, my clients and I have had successful results,” says Sheila Kirsh, a Toronto-based Collaborative Family Law lawyer and Vice-Chair, Director, and Founding Member of Collaborative Practice Toronto. “Communication skills are very important, and can be learned through written information, modeling by the Collaboratively trained lawyers, experience, and practice within the group meetings. These improved communication skills can last a lifetime.”
Sheila Kirsh is a Toronto-based experienced family lawyer who has been practicing Collaborative Law for several years. She is a Director and Founding Member of the Collaborative Practice Toronto group, and sits on the Executive of the Family Law Section of the Ontario Bar Association. She can be reached at (416) 367-1765.