Written on behalf of Shariff & Associates
The dissolution of a marriage or common-law partnership can be a highly emotional situation involving complex family and financial issues. Collaborative family law is an alternative dispute resolution process that is used to settle family law matters, including divorce (sometimes called “collaborative divorce”) and separation agreements. This process has many benefits that can reduce the cost, time, and emotional strain on parties trying to resolve their conflicts respectfully and amicably.
We explain some of these benefits below, for families who may be considering this process for their own family law matter. While collaborative family law can help reduce the adversarial nature of a divorce or separation, it is important to note that it can also be used to work through issues relating to marriage contracts and cohabitation agreements.
1. The collaborative process is voluntary and helps parties to be part of the solution.
Collaborative family law is voluntary, and the parties must agree to the process in order to proceed. The parties work with lawyers trained in collaborative law and sign a participation agreement stating they will not initiate a court case while the collaborative process is ongoing. If the collaborative process ends or the parties choose to pursue litigation, their collaborative lawyer cannot represent them in court.
The goal of the collaborative process is to create a customized agreement between the parties that considers their particular needs. In meetings with the parties and their lawyers, the parties are encouraged to share ideas and articulate their concerns. Each party is also able to independently consult their lawyer between group negotiations. This allows for creative solutions that are acceptable to all parties that can be incorporated into the final settlement agreement.
While the collaborative family law process has many benefits for parties in family law proceedings, it may not work for everyone. Parties are free to stop participating if they feel the process is no longer appropriate for their situation and can then pursue other avenues of dispute resolution. Information shared between the parties remains confidential when the collaborative process ends.
2. Collaborative methods encourage open, respectful communication and can reduce conflict.
Family law matters can be emotionally stressful, and traditional court litigation can sometimes worsen the relationship between the parties. The collaborative method is, by design, solutions-oriented and less adversarial than other types of dispute resolution processes. This can help the parties maintain a cordial relationship, which is particularly important where the parties will be co-parenting their children for the foreseeable future.
At the outset, the parties sign an agreement stating they will not proceed to court while the collaborative process is ongoing. If the matter is brought to court later, the parties cannot be represented by their collaborative family lawyers. All information shared between the parties (except specified financial documents) remains confidential after the collaborative process ends. This supports open and honest communication between the parties while they engage in collaborative negotiations. All relevant information must be shared, especially the parties’ full financial disclosure, which allows the parties to make fully informed decisions. Failure to provide full disclosure can result in the parties’ agreement being invalidated by the court.
Respectful communication is encouraged in the collaborative negotiation process. Collaborative family lawyers can assist in efficiently resolving conflicts as they arise. This approach can help “keep parties at the table” while they work through the issues of their case.
3. Parties can receive expert guidance to resolve specific issues.
Although the collaborative process encourages the parties to resolve issues between themselves, experts can still be engaged to provide advice on where needed. Financial specialists can assist the parties in completing their required financial disclosure and can also provide advice on complex matters like valuation calculations. Family experts like social workers and psychologists can explore issues such as custody and access with the parties’ children and ensure their specific needs and perspectives are incorporated into a parenting plan.
If the parties cannot come to a resolution on a particular issue through the usual collaborative negotiation process, an independent mediator can be brought in to help guide the parties to an agreement.
4. Collaborative family law can reduce the overall time and cost to parties.
Although parties pay fees to their collaborative lawyers, the efforts of the parties themselves help reduce the overall cost. Additionally, as the process is less adversarial than other resolution methods, parties may be able to avoid time-consuming and expensive court fees and litigation. Because the parties contribute their ideas and work together in the process, there may be less legal challenges to the resulting agreement in court. It can also encourage parties to resolve issues between themselves as they arise, preventing future litigation.
The parties are responsible for the fees associated with any specialists used to work through specific issues; however, the subject-matter experts used in the collaborative law process may be able to work more quickly and efficiently to save time and cost overall. It can also prevent the parties from having to bring matters before the court later to address particularly complex issues.
Contact Shariff & Associates in Stouffville to determine if collaborative divorce will work for you
At Shariff & Associates, both of our founding partners are trained collaborative family lawyers. Jennfier Long and Romaana Shariff are both members of York Region Collaborative Practice. They are committed to helping negotiate an amicable resolution that considers your unique circumstances and needs and helps maintain a healthy dynamic after a divorce or separation. If collaborative family law isn’t appropriate for your situation, our family lawyers are also skilled in other forms of dispute resolution advocacy, including mediation and litigation.
Shariff & Associates is the largest family law firm in Stouffville. We proudly serve our community as well as traditionally under-serviced surrounding areas including but not limited to, Ajax, Brooklin, Aurora, Newmarket, Uxbridge, Whitby, Oshawa, Mount Albert, Ballantrae, Zephyr. We also regularly serve clients in Markham and throughout the Toronto area. Contact us online or by phone at 905-591-4545 to schedule a consultation.