I have seen the look many times in the years I have been practising Family Law. I watch the blood drain from my client’s face sitting opposite me when they learn how much and how long it will take to have their family law matter resolved at Court. Until fairly recently, anyone who had a conflict with their former spouse that they couldn’t resolve amicably, were left with no option than to take their matter to Court. Unfortunately, the Family Court has proven to be a very inefficient and expensive way for parties to have their family law disputes resolved.

Understandably, it is an emotional and traumatic time for anyone who breaks up from a spouse. When you add concerns about children and financial pressures arising from the marriage breakup it can be very difficult to cope with the added stress. My experience as a practitioner has been that separating spouses who don’t very much like each other at the time of separation will like each other even less after they have been through the wringer of the Family Court system.

People who are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on the Family Court to resolve the dispute will find themselves in the ‘system’ for at least twelve months and will pay many thousands of dollars for the privilege of using the court. Most people find that the court system operates by assigning blame or fault and creates an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.

But there is now an alternative. The Collaborative Law model originated in the United States and has been successfully used there since the 1980’s. It was introduced to the Australian Law system in about 2005 and more and more family law practitioners are using the model to assist their clients.

Collaborative Law relies on problem solving and informed agreements. It creates a safe environment for the exchange of ideas and possible solutions. The parties and their lawyers commit themselves to resolving differences in a manner acceptable to both parties without the threat of court proceedings or any form of litigation. Collaborative Law uses informal discussions and conferences attended by the parties and their lawyers to settle all of the issues. A major goal of the collaborative process is to maximize settlement options for the benefit of the parties and their children, if applicable.

The parties and their lawyers attend ‘four-way’ meetings where together everyone identifies the issues and decides what documents need to be exchanged or agree on other experts that may need to be consulted. 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 at court. This insures total commitment to the process and distinguishes Collaborative Practice from other litigation based negotiation.

Lawyers practicing Collaborative Law are required to undertake special training to be involved in the process. There are a growing number of lawyers who are opting for this model as there is a greater sense of satisfaction in achieving a fairer and more amicable result. The advantage to client’s is that their family law problems are resolved much quicker and for far less than it would cost to take the matter to court. Clients are also more involved in the process as they are encouraged to seek solutions that meet with their needs rather than their rights.

My experience is that clients who use the collaborative law model feel more positive about the outcome. They don’t usually feel like they are being forced into accepting a result that is unfair.

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