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Collaborative Family Law

What is Collaborative Family Law? 

Collaborative Family Law is a process for resolving disputes between couples who are separating in which both of the parties agree to resolve their issues without going to Court. The parties each retain their own Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer to provide advice and assistance with negotiating an agreement. The goal is to enable you to reach a mutually agreeable and mutually beneficial resolution of your issues that will reduce the negative impact of litigation on your emotional and financial well-being while you are experiencing family breakdown.

How does the Collaborative Family Law process work?

“Four-Way” Settlement Meetings 

In a Collaborative Family Law matter, decisions are made in a series of “four-way” settlement meetings that are attended by you and your spouse and each of their lawyers.

Participation Agreement 

The first step in a Collaborative Family Law file is to enter into a Participation Agreement. This Agreement sets out the principles of the collaborative process and the expectations of all participants in the Collaborative process. By signing the Participation Agreement, you are committing to fully disclose and exchange information, to treat each of the other participants with respect and fairness, and to keep confidential the information exchanged as part of the Collaborative process. 

Determine Your Needs, Goals and Objectives 

Once a Participation Agreement is signed, you, your spouse and your lawyers meet to develop an understanding of each other’s needs, goals and objectives, and create individual and shared goals for the future. Once you have reached an understanding of your goals and objectives, you will work to generate a number of options for resolving your issues. If necessary, you and your spouse can involve other experts to assist you at this stage of the process, including financial neutrals (for example, a financial planner, appraiser or mortgage broker), parenting experts to assist in resolving parenting issues, and divorce coaches to provide support with the emotional aspects of the collaborative process.

Evaluate Options for Resolving the Issues 

Once you have generated options for resolving your issues, the collaborative team assists in evaluating options based on your goals. At all stages throughout the process, your Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer will ensure that your legal rights and obligations are considered. 

Finalize an Agreement

After an agreement is reached, your lawyer will work with your spouse’s lawyer to prepare all of the documentation that is necessary to implement your agreement, including a Separation Agreement and Divorce Judgment, if necessary. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you may choose to pursue another dispute resolution mechanism, including mediation, arbitration, or court. Should either party opt to proceed to court, the collaborative process will come to an end, and both parties’ collaborative lawyers must cease to represent them.

Why Collaborative Family Law?

Family breakdown is a difficult process for individuals and their families. While there are many options available to people who have experienced relationship breakdown, such as mediation, or a traditional litigation approach, there are many reasons to consider Collaborative Family Law. A Collaborative Family Law process can reduce some of the stress and conflict which is often experienced by parties who are engaged in the court system. Some of the reasons that people choose collaborative law are:

  • You want the freedom and flexibility to craft creative and individualized solutions that work for your specific needs and the needs of your family;
  • You wish to maintain control over the decision-making, rather than having a third party make decisions about your future and the future of your family;
  • You want a process that is respectful and fair, and considers your future needs and goals;
  • You wish to protect your children from exposure to long-term conflict between yourself and your spouse; and
  • You wish to work on establishing a new co-parenting relationship with your spouse that will allow you to effectively care for your children while living in separate households.

What is the benefit of retaining a Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer?

Registered Collaborative Family Lawyers in Alberta have undertaken mandatory training, including mediation, interest-based negotiation and training on the collaborative family law process. In order to continue to be a Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer, the lawyer must also complete regular ongoing training in areas relevant to Collaborative Practice. 

What is the difference between Collaborative Family Law and Mediation? 

In mediation, the parties use a neutral professional to assist in settling the dispute. Because the mediator is neutral, they do not represent either party. Like collaborative law, the parties do not go to court during mediation, and will generally agree to share information. Most often, lawyers do not directly participate in mediation, although it is possible for lawyers to attend mediation. In mediation, your lawyer is often involved only to consult with you outside of mediation and prepare final settlement documents if an agreement is reached. Mediation is ideal for parties who have a good ability to understand and analyze the information provided by the other party, and can directly communicate their needs and wishes to the other party. For more information about how mediation works and the lawyers in our firm who also act as mediators, please see our mediation page

How does Collaborative Family Law differ from Litigation?

Litigation is another option for resolving disputes after family breakdown. In many cases, parties will face interim court applications, questioning under oath in relation to their evidence in the case, and settlement discussions. Where parties cannot reach an agreement, trial or other judicial process may ultimately be required, which places the resolution of the family’s issues in the hands of a third party who has limited information regarding the circumstances of the family. While litigation may be the only option in some cases, it is often more costly, takes longer, and results in less satisfactory outcomes. 

For more information about Collaborative Family Law, please visit www.collaborativepractice.ca, or www.divorceseparation.ca. You can also contact Katherine Palmer , a Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer or Linnea Goodhand, a Registered Collaborative Family Lawyer.