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What is collaborative family law?

Collaborative family law is a process in which the parties and their lawyers agree in writing to cooperate and work together to create agreements that resolve the issues arising out of the parties’ separation. No one will go to court or use threats of court.

Instead, we work to create solutions that address the values and goals of both parties and their children. The sole objective is to reach an efficient, fair and comprehensive settlement of all issues. The parties choose to use CFL professionals including financial advisors, psychologists, counsellors, child specialists and lawyers in a holistic approach to their family’s needs.

What is the Victoria Collaborative Family Separation Professionals?

We are a group of independent professionals, including counsellors, psychologists, social workers, accountants, chartered business valuators, certified financial planners, and lawyers, who have chosen and been trained to work together in the collaborative process.  Our mission statement is:  “We encourage and promote a new process to create positive solutions for people in conflict and families in transition

How is collaborative process different from a traditional negotiated agreement?

In the collaborative approach, both parties agree to stay out of court, the emphasis is on creating solutions that address the values and goals of both parties and their children, and the sole objective is to reach an efficient, fair and comprehensive settlement of all issues.  In a traditional negotiated agreement, the threat of court is always present, which may change the way that the parties and their lawyers engage.  Also, the lawyers in the collaborative process, while there to provide advice to their own clients, are also there to support the process, so a lawyer may suggest resolution for the other party in an effort to find resolution.

In the collaborative process there this also an agreement for full disclosure as a part of the Participation Agreement, so the lawyers can talk openly with each other in debriefing sessions or in the four-way meetings in an effort to streamline information and tackle subject matters in a way that will work for the process.  The process aims to eliminate the shaming and blaming that can occur in a traditional negotiated agreement setting.

What if the spouses don't get along well enough to be in the same room?

We recognize that conflict often goes with the territory when people separate. However, as part of the collaborative process, divorce coaches offer assistance to improve communication. Each person will be advised to work individually with a divorce coach. These individual meetings can be followed by joint sessions with both parties and both divorce coaches before a four way meeting with lawyers occurs. It is important that each partner feel prepared to engage in collaborative negotiation.

How is collaborative process different from going to court?

Our court process is based on an adversarial system. This means that each party’s lawyer presents the best possible case for the client without considering the interests of the other party. If a case goes to court, each party is subject to cross-examination by their former spouse’s lawyer. The decision-making power rests solely with the judge. The parties have little control over the outcome. Collaborative process allows the parties to make more creative arrangements that are best for them and their children. Collaboration is a confidential, private process while court is public.

Is collaborative process cheaper than going to court?

Collaborative process can be cheaper than court. The cost of either collaboration or court depends on the number of issues that couples need to resolve as part of their separation. The collaborative process includes other professionals who are highly trained and offer better value in their field of expertise. It is impossible to estimate a specific couples’ costs and the matter of costs should be discussed with your lawyer when you first meet. To provide basic ranges, it is the experience of our Victoria group that a collaborative process involving several four-way meetings may cost each party between $4,000 to $6,000 but will cost more if there are complicated parenting or financial issues. In contrast, a five day trial in Supreme Court will likely cost each party at least $35,000 to $50,000 and possibly more depending on the circumstances. And courts frequently order that one spouse pay the other spouse’s court costs.

How is collaborative process different from mediation?

In mediation, although efforts are made to resolve the issues in dispute, the threat of litigation still exists. One party may decide to terminate the mediation and go to court. In signing the Collaborative Participation Agreement, both parties, their lawyers and other professionals make a commitment in writing to reach settlement without litigation or threats of litigation.

In mediation there is one neutral third party who leads the process. Sometimes the parties attend mediation on their own and sometimes lawyers attend mediation sessions with the parties. In collaborative process, each party has his or her own lawyer present at meetings.

Collaborative process and mediation do have some similarities. They are both interest-based, rather than position-based, forms of negotiation.

What is a divorce coach, and how is a coach different from a therapist?

A divorce coach is a mental health professional (such as a psychologist, clinical counsellor, social worker or psychiatrist) who has completed collaborative training. A divorce coach has expertise in family systems, couples in conflict, child psychology and the impact of legal processes in separation. A divorce coach assists the parties and other collaborative team members (especially the parties’ lawyers) by:

  • Helping to identify and understand feelings, values and needs;
  • Providing support for the emotional aspects of separation and divorce;
  • Looking at the problems in terms of “what is the problem” rather than who is right or wrong;
  • Helping family members improve communication and reduce misunderstandings and blame;
  • Helping parents develop effective co-parenting skills and on-going positive family interactions.

Each party in collaborative process has a divorce coach, who also work together in 4 way meetings with the spouses to work through issues which can then be incorporated into their collaborative separation agreement, such as developing a parenting plan, or protocols for communication and resolving conflicts in future. They can also assist spouses to address the emotional issues which are blocking resolution of other financial and legal matters, which can then help to ensure that their meetings with their lawyers and financial specialist are more productive.

Why do the spouses need to get new lawyers if the collaborative process breaks down?

This requirement ensures that all the participants (spouses, lawyers and/or other professionals) in the collaborative process will be fully committed to find solutions to all the issues the spouses need to resolve. This commitment helps everyone to keep working to achieve resolution even if the going gets tough. The requirement that lawyers work solely in the capacity of a collaborative team member protects the integrity of the collaborative process and prevents it from being used as preparation for going to court.

What are the roles and qualifications of the various collaborative professionals?

For a complete description of the roles and qualifications of our professional team members, please go to the Our Team tab and click on the “read more” link found beneath each team role description.

How do the professionals work with us – in other words, what does the process look like?

Please go to the Our Process tab where you will find a description of how we collaborate as professionals and how this process can work for you.

Okay, I'm interested. How can I get started in the collaborative process?

All the members of our group are listed in the Our Team section of this website. You can phone one of the team members to inquire about the collaborative process and start the process. Some people may want to start with a divorce coach while others may want to start with a lawyer or financial advisor. A collaborative process has not actually started until both spouses and the professionals working with them have signed the Collaborative Participation Agreement. You may also use the Contact Us information to have one of our members reach you at your convenience.

How can I get my spouse interested in collaboration?

Your spouse may need to learn about the benefits of collaborative process and how it works. You can direct them to our website. You could also meet with one of our team members and he or she could phone or write your spouse to introduce the collaborative process and invite your spouse to join. Many spouses have been successfully invited to join a collaborative process and this is a good matter to raise at your first meeting with one of our team members.

How can professionals join the Collaborative Family Separation Professionals?

We invite interested professionals to attend our monthly meetings and decide whether or not to join our group after attending a few meetings. To find our more about our monthly meetings, now held on the second Tuesday of each month from noon to 1:30 pm, please use the Contact Us information on this website, or call one of our members directly.

Professionals who join our group must complete an initial training course offered by the Continuing Legal Education Society of B.C. or a similar collaborative law training course. Members must also be registered within their professional organization, have professional liability insurance, and meet relevant training requirements (please see professional roles and qualifications under the Our Team section of this website – click on the “read more” link next to each profession description.)