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Collaborative law: Settling disputes outside of court

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Collaborative law: Settling disputes outside of court

This form of dispute resolution originated in Minnesota, USA. In 1990, family lawyer Stu Webb decided that the traditional methods of dealing with financial and children issues following relationship breakdown were combative and confrontational and did not serve the couple well.  He committed to find another way to assist clients reaching agreements and finding solutions and thus collaborative law was born.

Collaborative law crossed the Atlantic and arrived in the UK and Europe in 2003.

The collaborative process is conducted by parties together with their collaboratively trained lawyers taking part in a number of face-to-face meetings (four-way meetings) to reach an agreement.  The parties and their solicitors will have separate meetings and the solicitors will also meet outside the four-way meetings. As an alternative dispute resolution process, unless the parties agree otherwise, the collaborative law process is confidential, and the information obtained through the process cannot be used in later court proceedings.

The collaborative process is not available once court proceedings have been issued.

The first step in this is process is for each party to instruct collaboratively trained lawyers.  At the outset, the parties sign a participation agreement which records their agreement to resolve matters without the assistance of the court, other than to ask the court to approve any agreement in the form of a consent order, if one is reached. The participation agreement also means that if the process breaks down, the parties will need to instruct new legal teams. Some see this as an impediment to the process but it is in fact a strength as when there are difficulties within the negotiations rather than throw the towel in, parties, with the help of their trained collaborative lawyers, are more likely to work their way through difficult issues to try and keep the negotiations on track and arrive at an agreement.

It is possible to enlist the assistance of other professionals such as financial advisers and independent social workers in the collaborative process if both parties believe their assistance will help negotiations.  These professionals can either advise on paper or attend meetings.  The process is flexible enough to allow the parties with the assistance of their solicitors to decide what is the best option in their particular circumstances.

If you think collaborative law might be suitable for your case, or if you would like to discuss whether collaborative law could be suitable for you, please call us on 020 7436 6767 or email our collaborative lawyer, Margaret Kelly on margaret@kmjsolicitors.com.

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