The other day I was talking to one of my opponents in a family law matter in what was becoming very quickly an intractable dispute for our respective clients. I suggested to my opponent that we try the collaborative law model and I was horrified by the response. I was told by my opponent that he wouldn’t talk to his client about collaborative law because when it didn’t work out he would be prevented from representing his client in the Family Court.
The impression that I got from my fellow practitioner was that he was telling his client not to compromise at all in the hope that my client would simply give in. Of course, if my client decided not to give in it would mean the matter would end up in the Family Court and become a financial advantage for the lawyers.
Fortunately, my experience is that most family law lawyers try to avoid going down the path of court. This is probably one of the reasons why the collaborative law model is more widely used in family law matters.
Collaborative law is a new and unique way for separating and divorced couples to settle their family law dispute without the need to go to court. The issues that need to be resolved between the couples are discussed with the assistance of lawyers at ‘four way’ meetings attended by the separating spouses and the lawyers.
Unlike other mediation based services or the court, the parties are not limited to discussing problems regarding parenting, property and child support that are governed by the law. The parties are encouraged to focus on their needs rather than on the rights as dictated by the Family Law Act.
A significant component of the collaborative process is a commitment that, in the event that the process breaks down, neither lawyer will represent their client in the Family Court. This ensures total commitment to the process and distinguishes Collaborative Practice from other litigation-based negotiation.
Parties who are going through a divorce and trying to resolve a family law dispute are normally and understandably very stressed. Quite often, the level of stress can escalate dramatically during a family law matter that can take months or even years to resolve. Unfortunately, the court process and even other mediation based services are ill equipped with resources to ensure a speedy resolution.
So far, the collaborative law model has been slow to gain momentum in Australia and particularly on the Central Coast. However, I am confident that once the model becomes more widely recognised the benefits available to clients in family law matters will be apparent and it will be the preferred model of choice.
That will mean that the old fashion views, such as that of my opponent, will not be accepted by the family law client and that has to be a win for anyone involved in the family law system.