A new kind of fast-track divorce being used by Madonna and Guy Ritchie is being championed by a Cornwall family law expert. Collaborative law is a form of alternative dispute resolution for divorcing couples who need strong legal representation, but would like to avoid going to court. The clients agree in advance not to take matters to court and they sign an agreement to that effect.
Sue Harwood, of Woolley & Co family law specialists, based in Helston and covering the Truro area, is one of only 1,000 lawyers in the UK offering collaborative law. And she believes the method being used by Guy and Madonna – who are among the first celebrity couples to go down this route according to reports – will make the break-up much easier to bear for all involved. “Collaborative law enables each party to appoint their own lawyer but instead of conducting negotiations by letter or phone you meet your partner together with your lawyer to work things out face to face, known as four-way meetings,” said Sue. “The approach originated in America but has recently been given judicial backing in the UK and is becoming increasingly popular among divorcing couples. “Couples who have successfully settled their case through collaboration will be able to fast track their Consent Orders through the courts, effectively speeding up the whole process.
A Consent Order is the document that sets out the terms of the parties' agreement which traditionally can take up to two weeks to be approved by the court. “The process certainly avoids mudslinging and harmful battles and with the publicity surrounding Guy and Madonna's split, I think the message will spread that collaborative law is an alternative for couples seeking a swift resolution and keen to avoid a court room confrontation. It gives people the chance the negotiate themselves and feel that they are taking control of the situation rather than being left in the hands of the court.”