Once you have determined that Collaborative Family Law is a process which may work for you, you should:
- Introduce the concept to your spouse. If you feel comfortable introducing the concept to your spouse directly, talk with him or her about the Collaborative Family Law Process and share the information on this website. You may not be comfortable fielding questions about the concept from your spouse, so it may be advisable to simply let him or her know that you have found the concept appealing, and then provide this website address so that your spouse can explore this process in his or her own time and pace.
- Each spouse chooses a collaborative family law lawyer - Each of you should take the time to review the list of collaborative lawyers on this site towards selecting your own collaborative lawyer. The collaborative family law lawyer you choose will discuss the issues of concern to you, will review in detail the Collaborative Family Law process with you and determine whether Collaborative Family Law is appropriate for you.
- Your lawyer may then write to your spouse (if he or she has not yet retained a lawyer) and provide information about the Collaborative Family Law process, together with a list of lawyers on the panel. Your lawyer will invite your spouse to have his or her collaborative lawyer contact your lawyer to arrange for an initial four-way meeting.
- Once the spouses have met individually with their respective lawyers, the lawyers will contact each other to arrange the first four-way Collaborative Family Law meeting. Your lawyer will prepare you for that meeting.
- Both spouses and both collaborative lawyers sign a contract or Participation Agreement at the first four-way meeting, showing their commitment to adhere to the principles of the Collaborative Family Law process.
- The contract commits all four individuals to working in a co-operative manner to arrive at unique, creative solutions to the problems facing your specific family. In particular, you and your spouse agree that you will not start court proceedings unless all efforts have been completely exhausted. But even more important is the agreement by the lawyers that they will not go to court on your behalf at any time. Thus, if negotiations break down and you or your spouse decided to head to court, two new lawyers will have to be hired. This would result in a wasteful duplication of legal fees. This certainly gives you and your spouse a keen incentive to remain at the negotiating table to avoid court proceedings if at all possible.
- The contract also details among other things that you and your spouse must make full and honest disclosure of finances and other important facts that are necessary to make informed decisions. If expert advice is needed from other professionals, such as valuators, child therapists or tax planners, the parties agree to use the same expert and decide on how the expert's fees will be paid.
- At the four-way meeting, you, your spouse and your lawyers together will determine what issues need to be immediately addressed. Maybe you have already agreed on some major or minor points and just need help with a few issues. Perhaps you have some general agreements and need help to fine tune some issues prior to the drafting of a legal Separation Agreement. Perhaps you are starting at "square one." You will together decide what order the issues get talked about, and decide on what further information is needed. Then the time is spent gathering information, analyzing the information and generating options for agreement. Often, once you go through the process of information gathering and analysis, the solution is obvious. Sometimes, that is when the negotiations really begin. Before you know it, you are part of a problem solving team which generates workable options to obtain agreements on all of your issues.
- The lawyers are committed to working together to help you and your spouse arrive at a settlement. While the collaborative lawyers share a common goal in the collaborative process, each of them has a professional duty to represent his or her own client and is not the lawyer of the other client. All participants commit to treat one another with respect during all meetings.
- At the end of your first four-way meeting, you, your spouse and your collaborative lawyers will review any temporary agreements you have agreed to, discuss a partial agenda for the next four-way meeting and confirm the date, time and place of the next meeting. You will also identify further information or documents you need to bring to any subsequent four-way meetings to effectively negotiate further outstanding issues.