Should you consider collaborative family law in your Ontario divorce?

Collaboration is an alternative to traditional divorce that focuses on cooperation, creativity, respect and avoiding the courtroom.

You may not fancy the idea of a negative, adversarial divorce process. While that is the reputation divorce has had traditionally, today alternative processes have evolved that are more positive and cooperative. One of them, established in the 1990s, is called collaborative family law.

What is collaboration?

In collaboration, the parties sign a participation agreement in which they agree to:

  • Engage in a series of four-way meetings with both of their lawyers to negotiate an amicable settlement agreement of the issues in their divorce like child custody, spousal support, child support, property division and others
  • Maintain honest, respectful and dignified behaviour throughout the process
  • Share all relevant financial and personal information needed for a fair negotiation
  • Pledge to stay out of court and work through differences to agreement
  • Hire jointly experts to provide information necessary to an informed agreement such as financial planners, accountants, valuators, real estate appraisers, child professionals like psychologists or social workers
  • If the process breaks down, the lawyers must withdraw, and the parties get new lawyers from different law firms to go forward in a different process like mediation, arbitration or traditional divorce

The collaborative negotiation process can result in creative solutions that may not occur to anyone in a traditional, adversarial negotiation. The focus is on making life work well for everyone in the family. In a traditional negotiation, it may seem more important to come out in a better position than the other spouse.

Collaboration can also be positive for children. The divorced parents are likely to have a healthier relationship and better communication than they might have had after litigation, making life smoother and happier for their children going forward.

The cost factor

Collaborative divorce can often be less costly than drawn-out litigation, but not always. The parties must be committed to working through impasses to solutions, because each four-way meeting involves paying two lawyers and other retained professionals. When the parties have a positive outlook and commit to progressing in negotiation, the process can indeed be more cost effective.

Considerations

It is important to talk to a lawyer if you are considering collaboration for your divorce. Sometimes it is not recommended. For example, if one spouse has a history of dishonesty, it may not be a good idea to trust that he or she will be forthright in sharing all needed information without the pressure of the court process. A history of violence or addiction also suggests a traditional process would be a better alternative.

But, in many situations, collaboration is a productive process that creates a comprehensive and fair settlement agreement and that fosters a positive relationship after divorce.

Lawyer Judith Holzman of Judith Holzman Law Offices in Maple, Ontario, is specially trained in collaborative family law. She represents divorcing spouses in Vaughan and throughout the York Region using collaboration, mediation, arbitration, and traditional negotiation and litigation.