Separation is difficult enough for the parties involved. What can make it even harder is a long, drawn out process – especially if lawyers and courts are involved. It’s all too often expensive, stressful and time-consuming.

Here’s where something called Collaborative law can make a big difference. Collaborative Law is a legal term for a process that came originally from the US and is getting more and more popular in Australia – and for good reasons.

As the name suggests, is all about putting the separating couple at the centre of negotiations, to assist and empower them to come to the best solution for themselves and their children.  It seeks to keep the separating parties out of the courts and instead put their efforts and resources into an early, effective – and inexpensive – resolution of the issues.

In Collaborative Law, the parties meet at their lawyers’ offices (or other agreed meeting places) and commit to an open and honest exchange in their dealings, making proper disclosure of all relevant information.

The parties enter into a formal agreement, called a Participation Agreement, by which the separating couple agrees to act with openness and integrity and to negotiate fairly. The agreement allows for other professionals to assist the parties to a resolution as well. These might include mediators, child experts, financial planners, accountants as needed. The idea is that everybody agrees to get help from experts in their fields where necessary to come to an amicable, impartial, sensible agreement, free of conflict.

The process still involves lawyers, but in these circumstances they play a somewhat different role. They continue to advocate and support their clients and advise them of their legal entitlements. However, lawyers make a commitment that they won’t continue to act for the client if negotiations fail and the dispute goes to court.

This doesn’t mean the parties are left without lawyers if they do want to go to court – they can do this, but they must then get new lawyers.

The advantage of this arrangement is that the parties have the reassurance of knowing their lawyers and experts are there to assist them to resolve their disputes and have no interest in prolonging or increasing any conflict.

The Collaborative Law approach doesn’t shy away from addressing the hard issues in a relationship breakup, but seeks to achieve the best results from mediation; to find solutions which are mutually beneficial and allow for a dignified resolution.

The Collaborative Law approach won’t solve all family conflicts.  But for many conflicts, particularly the more difficult and intense ones, it’s a very useful approach.