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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

What makes a great collaborative family lawyer?

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Catherine EdmondsonA recurring theme on this blog is the fact that adopting a non-confrontational approach to divorce is of benefit to all concerned. It may go against every natural instinct you have to be quick in responding to correspondence, making concessions on both sides to reach a settlement faster and, frankly, not indulging in a spot of point scoring to make you feel better. Divorce, though, doesn’t have to be a battlefield.

This is neatly encapsulated by seeking a collaborative approach to divorce. At the risk of going too much over well-established ground, this is where both sides agree to a non-confrontational approach and both engage collaborative lawyers –specially trained in this approach – to help settle the details of who gets what and where the children live and when they see the non-resident parent. A series of four-way meetings are held to sort out the details after which the lawyers draw up the necessary documents and orders.

The main benefits of this approach are that everyone does everything possible to keep things as amicable as they can be, it helps you retain control as you are not at the mercy of court timetables, and it keeps a lid on costs – avoiding going to court is the single most effective way of doing this.

However, there are some limitations with collaborative divorce. You need to be in an area with a good “pod” of trained collaborative lawyers, for a start. Both parties must engage fully trained and qualified collaborative lawyers. As you are both likely to be living in the same area, having just one lawyer serving that whole area is going to be no good as you both can’t both use the same solicitor. Even if there are just a few, you want to choose your collaborative lawyer carefully – and not just because they are the only one available.

So, what makes a great collaborative lawyer? Well, a whole raft of things that are applicable to any family lawyer really. None of these attributes will come as a surprise but all together will ensure you get the best collaborative representation.

Experience – the collaborative approach is a different one from the norm. Experience in dealing with a number of family law cases will ensure the person is aware of the best approaches to take and the pitfalls you may encounter.

Expertise – fairly obvious but they do need to have undergone the specialist collaborative law training. Ask when they completed the training and their commitment to continuing professional development.

Keeping up to date – when that training is completed, you want to know that your chosen solicitor is someone who discusses issues with fellow collaborative solicitors, follows new techniques and guidelines, and generally keeps an eye on how family law judges are behaving in this sector of the industry.

Good listening skills – this goes for all lawyers and is something you can generally get a feel for when first meeting them or speaking to them on the telephone.

Good negotiating skills – all lawyers are negotiators but it is the conciliatory approach that must be adopted by collaborative lawyers that is vital. Delicate negotiations will be needed to ensure the best agreement is reached for you. Part of this negotiation may be privately with you rather than with the other party and their lawyer, ensuring you have realistic expectations of what can be achieved.

Collaborative divorce is not for everybody but if you do go down this road, ensuring you have a great collaborative lawyer is the best way to get a positive outcome for you.

Catherine Edmondson
Collaborative family lawyer

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