What is Collaborative Practice?
Collaborative Practice is a client-centred, solutions-oriented, out-of-court alternative for divorcing couples. The Collaborative Practice approach brings together specially trained legal, family and financial experts to assist parties to work toward a separation agreement that is realistic, workable, confidential and meets the interests of both spouses and their children. A collaborative divorce, if successful, should eliminate the need for time consuming, expensive court appearances.
The parties agree to the guiding principles of collaborative practices;
- An Agreement not to go to court
- An honest exchange of information by both spouses (disclosure)
- A solution that takes into account the highest priorities of both spouse and children
The parties may decide to make use of other collaboratively-trained professionals. A neutral child specialist can provide insight into concerns of the children. A neutral financial specialist can help gather and explain financial information and create future projections for settlement options. Family professionals help couples improve communication, create parenting plans, as well as manage the conflict and emotions that arise.
Role of the Neutral Family Professional in Collaborative Divorce Cases
The Family Professional (FP), as a neutral facilitator, can participate in collaborative cases bringing value to the process. For example, although the same thing the FP says may have been verbalized by one of the lawyers in the case, many clients report that having a neutral voice made it easier for them to “hear” what was being said.
As a neutral facilitator, Family Professionals typically can participate in four ways:
- Attend all joint meetings to help everyone in the meeting communicate as effectively as possible. Although it is a legal settlement meeting, everyone is clear it is occurring based on the emotional relationship between the couple. It is, therefore, impossible to expect that everyone will honour “perfect” communication skills. As a neutral facilitator, the FP helps everyone to honour and abide by “expectations of conduct” that are set out at the beginning of the process. Therefore, the FP is the person who is “allowed” to interrupt, ask participates to speak for themselves, helps participants reframe what was just said in a way that it can be heard and understood, and; keeps everyone focused on resolving the conflict.
- Help the clients to work through the very-predictable emotions that can interfere with the collaborative process. The Family Professional has the skill to help the clients contain emotions that can interfere with the productivity of the meetings. Therefore, the Family Professional can assist the clients and their lawyers to obtain results more efficiently and with greater client satisfaction. Lawyers who have worked with neutral FP’s often report that the FP’s ability to contain the emotions is an important value added service.
- Help everyone on the team communicate and move forward as effectively as possible. In collaborative practice, modeling good communication as a team can enhance the clients’ ability to work effectively. The FP’s expertise in working with systems can also be utilized in conducting team-debriefing meetings.
- In between the collaborative meetings, the FP can work with the clients either individually or jointly, to deal with issues on an as needed basis. The FP may also facilitate the involvement of other professionals such as therapists or child specialists. The FP can work with the clients during the collaborative process in his/her office, to develop a parenting plan, discuss how to tell the children about the divorce, etc.
Debra Rodrigues, specializing in separation and divorce and as a “neutral” in collaborative cases, helps clients cope with the emotional process; create a parenting plan; focus on the children’s needs; and assists in managing the process of collaborative meetings in order to move the process along by preventing breakdown.
Role of the Financial Professional
The Financial Professional may provide unbiased information and assistance, and help you reach a fiscally responsible settlement. These professionals can be financial planners, accountants, certified business valuators, and/or pension experts.
Jo-Anne Fiore is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and helps separating couples sort out the best possible financial options including tax complications, family owned businesses and pensions, to name a few. She also assists newly separated persons to determine a budget and have a plan for financial growth.
Given that the Collaborative Divorce process is still relatively new and lawyers have been trained in law school to be adversarial, you should take caution in who your hire for your Collaborative Lawyer. Also keep in mind that this process is typically much more costly than mediation. In Collaborative Divorce meetings, your lawyers are both present while in mediation they are not typically involved in the meetings.