Divorce can be highly confrontational and can involve a great deal of negotiation conducted by correspondence on the part of solicitors and their clients. This necessarily takes a great deal of time and can make, what is already a stressful process, even more so in many cases. Also, the client can seem detached from the whole exercise, especially in cases where there is a great deal of correspondence arguing points between the respective law firms involved.

In a bid to provide a quicker and less confrontational process, a new approach to divorce, termed collaborative law, has been created. The idea behind collaborative law is to allow the parties to resolve their differences as far as possible in a quicker and more flexible way, with the hoped-for results being the better preservation of family assets and maintenance of better relations between the divorcing couple. It is offered by lawyers who are specially trained to work in this way, with the aim of achieving a solution which works for the whole family.

Using collaborative law will not be appropriate in all cases, especially where the degree of conflict is great. If it is used and is not successful, a client may still opt for formal mediation or to use the courts.

The collaborative law process involves the client signing a participation agreement, which is, in effect, an agreement that they will not go to court. The client can withdraw from this at any time but, if they do so, the lawyers who advised them in collaboration cannot represent them in court. A series of four-way meetings follows, involving the clients and their legal representatives, which focus on finding solutions that work for everyone involved. In some situations, a ‘neutral’ third party may be used to suggest solutions to particular problems.