Consider collaborative

John Nicholson  Jun 11John Nicholson explains why he is such a proud advocate of collaborative practice on family or relationship breakdown.

I am proud to have been one of the early adopters of collaborative law when it came over from California to the UK more than ten years ago. As an experienced and committed family lawyer I could immediately see the advantages of a process that would keep families out of court, and save people from exacerbating the pain of divorce with stressful and expensive court proceedings. I am pleased to say I still feel as passionate about it today as I did then.

At first glance, collaborative practice in family law looks simply like a series of all-round-the-table meetings between former partners and their lawyers, but it is more than that. The key feature of collaborative law is the contract that everyone signs up to at the beginning of the process. This commits them to finding a solution without going to court (except to get approval for an agreement), so the lawyers involved cannot represent the estranged couple should they not manage to reach a settlement and decide to take the matter to court for a decision. On this basis, the lawyers are highly committed to making the process work, otherwise they lose their client, and the clients are highly committed also, as they tend to prefer not to have to go through the delay, stress and expense of instructing a second lawyer. It is in everyone’s strong interests to work towards a lasting solution to the problem out of court, whether it be property, money or children-related, or indeed all of them. There is no easy way out!

I very much enjoy working collaboratively as I believe it provides a much better foundation for life after divorce than battling in court, particularly where there are children. It is very difficult for parents who have spent three days fighting in front of a judge to get over that enough to co-parent children respectfully, effectively and constructively. By contrast, during the collaborative process I have witnessed parents who have diametrically-opposed points of view come to understand the other’s position and work together creatively and openly with their lawyers to devise practical solutions that everyone can tolerate. This must be a much better foundation for all the years of co-parenting to come.

Rapport is at the core of the collaborative process. This operates between client and lawyer, who work together more closely perhaps than in a traditional legal context, and also between the two lawyers who represent the former couple. Collaborative law does not work if there is no trust between the lawyers involved. In Creative Divorce, I am proud to say that I trust my fellow collaborative lawyers to follow the principles of collaborative practice with their client’s best interests in mind, and I hope they would say the same about me. This makes it the ideal platform for devising the best possible foundation for life after divorce.

John.nicholson@irwinmitchell.com