A Collaborative Family Law Practice Serving Toronto
The goal of collaborative family law is to allow those who are in the middle of a divorce or separation, to work in a collaborative manner with one another, their lawyers, and any specialists, with a goal of a mutually acceptable resolution. Once such a resolution is reached, it will be memorialized into a valid, binding agreement. The goal of collaborative family law is to avoid the adversarial nature, that is often inherent in splits that end in litigation. Collaborative family law operates under the assumption that the parties involved are ultimately in the best possible position to make the decisions regarding not only their own best interests but also the best interests of their children.
How Did Collaborative Family Law Start?
Collaborative family law came into being in the early 1990s when a family lawyer from Minneapolis became dissatisfied with the more traditional—and adversarial—family law litigation method. The lawyer, Stu Webb, saw the distress his clients underwent, in addition to the excessive financial costs. Born out of frustration with the existing system, Webb developed an alternate dispute resolution known as collaborative family law. Webb then looked for other lawyers whose beliefs were the same as his, and these lawyers began practicing collaborative family law on a case-by-case basis. Other lawyers found this method of alternative dispute resolution to their liking, and today collaborative family law is common in both Canada and the United States.
What is Collaborative Law Based On?
Collaborative family law is based on the premises of respect, honesty, and integrity between parties who are separating or divorcing. Once the couple agrees to engage in the collaborative family law process, they must sign an agreement which stipulates they have chosen this method of resolution, and that they agree they will not go to court nor threaten to go to court as they work to resolve their issues. Once the threat of court and costly litigation is no longer on the table, the couple is able to be as open and honest in their dealings with one another as possible. If the collaborative process turns out to be unsuccessful, notes taken during the meetings, and things said during collaborative law discussions are generally not admissible at trial, unless otherwise stipulated.
How Important Is It to Choose a Lawyer Skilled in Collaborative Family Law?
It is imperative that you choose a lawyer who possesses the required collaborative family law training, as well as experience implementing collaborative law. Your chances of success with collaborative law increase significantly when your lawyer possesses the skills which will aid in guiding negotiations and managing conflict. It is important to understand that these skills are rarely acquired in law school or through an lawyer’s practice, rather they are skills that are taught and learned in special collaborative family law training courses. Once a collaborative agreement is signed, then the first four-way meeting is scheduled—collaborative negotiations only take place during these meetings. While some parties may be able to resolve their issues in one meeting, it generally takes at least three to five meetings to resolve all issues involved in the divorce or separation.
These meetings are client-driven, so far as date, location, and time of the meetings, as well as determining which issues will be discussed. The parties are strongly encouraged to reach decisions and discuss their feelings while making arrangements for custody and access, property division, spousal support, child support, and any other issues associated with the divorce or separation. Collaborative lawyers offer support, or advice on legal issues, with a goal of ensuring the entire process remains positive and productive. There are specific guidelines used during collaborative family law meetings. These guidelines include:
- Never attack one another, rather attack the concerns and issues at hand.
- Rather than taking an unyielding position, each party will express himself or herself in terms of needs, interests, or a hoped-for outcome.
- The goal for both parties should be to produce the most acceptable, constructive agreement for all members of the family.
- During the four-way meetings, all parties will remain respectful, will use one another’s first names, and will not interrupt when another person is speaking. Language which blames or finds fault should always be avoided, and the terms “fair” and “unfair” should also be avoided whenever possible. Words such as “acceptable,” “agreeable,” and “workable” should be used, as well as “unacceptable,” “unworkable,” and “not agreeable.”
- It is important that each party speaks for himself or herself via “I” statements rather than “you” statements.
- Partners are encouraged to state what they observed, how they feel about the observation, what they think about the observation, and what they would like to happen regarding the observation. As an example: “I noticed that you were late three times last month when picking up the children. That made me feel worried about making our schedules work, and unhappy for the children who had to wait and wonder if you were coming. I think we need to try to keep regular schedules for the children and would like to see the schedule adhered to so the children are not disappointed.”
- Following an observation statement, then the other party is allowed to speak. The first person to speak should practice active listening, working to understand the replies from the other person without judgment. If you do not understand, ask for clarification and try restating what you think you heard in different words.
- It is important to understand that saying, “I understand,” is not the same thing as saying, “I agree.”
- If you have a concern, raise it, followed with a constructive suggestion on resolving the concern.
- If something simply does not work for you, be sure to tell your lawyer so the issue can be addressed at the next meeting.
- Be willing to commit to the time required for collaborative family law, and always come to the meetings prepared.
- Finally, practice patience—delays can occur, even when all parties are acting in good faith.
Musson Law—Your Collaborative Family Law Lawyers
To engage in collaborative family law, both you and your partner must have a collaborative family law lawyer, preferably one with considerable experience in collaborative law. At Musson Law, we have that experience and the necessary skills and knowledge to help our clients through a collaborative law divorce or separation. Anna-Marie Musson will closely listen to your concerns, answer your questions, explain things in a way you can understand, and will always make you feel comfortable, never rushed. We will set up a process for negotiation that makes sense for you and your family and may refer you to other professionals who can help resolve your issues, such as a financial planner or child specialist. In short, Musson Law will help you move forward in your life by resolving the issues in your personal life. Contact Musson Law today, for more information on collaborative family law, or answers to any other family law questions.