Collaborative Divorce

When considering going through divorce, it’s worth knowing the different routes you can take. One such route is the collaborate process, which is ideal for some couples but is certainly not for everybody. The circumstances, personalities, relationship and children might all influence whether it’s better to take a collaborative approach, or whether a more traditional divorce would be better suited. This guide answers all the key questions about collaborative law, including what the process is, the advantages and disadvantages, cost considerations, and how it compares to traditional divorce. 


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Why collaborative divorce?

The most common methods used to approach divorce in the UK include:

  • Mediation
  • Collaborative
  • Solicitor to solicitor negotiation
  • Court proceedings

Depending on your specific situation, one or more of these solutions will be more appropriate than the other. For example, if you need to make arrangements for your children and cannot come to an agreement, you may need to progress through the courts. This approach can be very expensive and stressful for all of the family, so another solution such as collaborative divorce is an option but only if it is feasible.

What is collaborative divorce?

A collaborative divorce firstly requires each party to appoint a collaborative divorce lawyer to act on their behalf. Then rather than taking a more traditional route to correspondence between parties via their lawyers, the couple and their lawyers attend four-way meetings together and work towards an outcome that is deemed as fair for everybody involved. Where required, a financial adviser or a family consultant may also be involved in the process. This type of divorce requires full co-operation from each person to resolve the details without going through the courts.

How does the collaborative process work?

After both spouses have met with their lawyers to discuss their situations, the lawyers will get in contact with each other to arrange the first four-way meeting. Any requirements such as bringing financial documents to the first meeting will be explained to the client by their collaborative lawyer.

The process should start with all four (both spouses and both lawyers) signing a Participation Agreement that essentially is a commitment that they will try to settle the divorce out of court.

Part of the agreement stipulates that the lawyer would not be able to represent the client in court if the collaborative approach does not work. This means that there is greater incentive for the lawyers to facilitate a resolution through this method.

The process will involve as many meetings between the four parties as it takes to resolve all of the details. Usually the first meeting will be focussed on ensuring that this is the correct solution for all concerned before progressing any further and incurring any additional costs.

In the initial meeting the spouses should have the chance to outline their objectives in terms of choosing the collaborative divorce method. This will allow them to agree on an agenda for the next meeting and discuss any financial information that should be brought to the following meeting.

In the subsequent meetings the spouses will go through their priorities and try to come to agreement on any family arrangements and financial matters. The lawyers will be working together to get a fair resolution on both sides.

Finally, once the agreements have been reached both spouses will sign documents to confirm their agreements. The lawyers will run through any outstanding details and make sure their clients are both clear on any responsibilities and required actions.

How long does collaborative divorce take?

Like the majority of divorce cases, it is difficult to predict a timeframe, as the individual circumstances will vary. You might have seen divorce services that claim the average length of a divorce takes 16-20 weeks but this will be when the terms are very amicable and have minimal family and financial considerations to work through.

In some cases, a collaborative divorce can be resolved with just two four-way meetings but the more complicated the situation is, the longer it is likely to take. It is more common to have 4-6 meetings in total throughout the process but some can go on much longer.


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Key differences between collaborative divorce and traditional divorce

Perhaps the single biggest difference between collaborative divorce and traditional divorce is that it does not go through court. Aside from that, the client’s level of involvement in the collaborative divorce process is very different, being focused on attending meetings face to face rather than being focused on legal letters, emails and telephone calls between lawyers. Collaborative divorce involves collaborative law trained lawyers, with both parties looking to resolve the divorce in an approach where the outcome is fair for everybody. This is opposed to a traditional divorce where each side is more typically fighting to get the best result individually.

Collaborative divorce only works if both parties are committed to the process and want to reach the best outcome for everyone involved.

The divorcing couple are able to use the legal expertise of their lawyers whilst working together to come to a mutually good settlement. Financial advisers and pensions experts can be brought in to work with both sides rather than one against the other.

A traditional divorce can be more expensive in terms of legal fees, so where the couple are amicable, collaborative divorce can save on cost if the number of four-way meetings does not become too great

Why do people choose collaborative divorce?

There are a number of very good reasons that people choose collaborative divorce but it is not the right solution for everybody. If you are solely trying to get the best solution for yourself personally, then it is not the right option.

People choose collaborative divorce for two main reasons; firstly it is typically a less confrontational approach and if it works well then it can be a less stressful way to divorce. If both sides are prioritising the future of the family, then a collaborative divorce will help the whole family to move on with less disruption and angst. It can also set up a good platform to build a post-divorce relationship based on co-operation.

The other main benefit is that it can work out considerably cheaper than going through the courts to settle a divorce and all of the legal costs associated with that approach.  It’s worth noting however, in many cases, the types of individual who are open to collaborative divorce are less likely to take their case to court anyway. It’s not that collaborative divorce is inherently cheaper than traditional divorce, it’s that the couples who take the collaborative divorce approach are often more willing to talk through their issues, resolve them quickly, and come to a compromise.

When you are considering what type of divorce is best for you, think about what your long-term priorities are. Do you need to negotiate the best financial outcome to protect your future? Is your main priority to ensure that your children are protected from any disputes or future relationship difficulties between their parents? Every situation is different but you should consider the long-term effects of an acrimonious divorce if you have children. On the other hand, you may need a good financial settlement to protect your family’s future.

Advantages of collaborative divorce

Each different route to divorce has advantages and disadvantages and being aware of these will help you to decide if collaborative divorce is the right choice for you. In the previous section, we mentioned two of the main reasons people choose this option and here are some more of the advantages:

  • Less confrontational and more dignified
  • More cost effective than going to court
  • Sets the foundations for a co-operative future
  • Typically a more balanced, ‘fairer’ outcome
  • Tends to be easier for other family members
  • Greater control of proceedings

Disadvantages of a collaborative divorce

Although collaborative divorce is right for some people, it does not work for everyone. A successful divorce through the collaborative method has several dependencies and disadvantages:

  • Only works if both sides are willing and have mutual respect
  • If one party is particularly dominant over the other
  • If communication has broken down between spouses or if trust has been lost.
  • Not suitable for trying to get individual best outcome
  • No timetable/deadlines so could drag on

If it doesn’t work, you need to appoint new lawyers

If you are considering whether to go down the route of collaborative divorce, you really must take into account both the pros and the cons. If one person seems reluctant to choose this method then this could cause problems, including additional expenses further along the line.

Does collaborative divorce cost more than traditional divorce?

There is no definitive answer to this because the circumstances in every divorce will vary. It’s certainly not uncommon for the legal costs of collaborative divorce to be less than traditional lawyer-to-lawyer negotiations, and they will almost certainly be less than going to court.

As with any divorce route, the cost of following the collaborative process will be largely determined by the length of the negotiations. If both parties are unable to come to a quick resolution, then it could end up costing more than a traditional divorce. However, if both parties make the process quick and easy then it certainly can be more cost-effective.

If negotiations break down and it transpires that collaborative divorce is not going to work, then each party will need to instruct new lawyers to progress the divorce in a traditional manner. In this situation, the costs of the failed collaborative divorce as well as the upcoming lawyer-to-lawyer negotiations will be applicable, potentially adding up to more than if both parties had taken the traditional divorce route from day one. So essentially, collaborative divorce can work out to be more cost effective if the four-way meetings progress smoothly to a quick resolution.

It’s also worth noting that in some cases, the financial settlement that one or the other party receives will be less than that received if they had taken the traditional divorce route. .Your lawyers work together to try and agree a fair outcome for each side, rather than fighting to get the best deal for their client.

How to find a collaborative divorce lawyer

Collaborative divorce remains a relatively rarely used option, though it is gaining more popularity. Not all lawyers are trained in collaborative law so depending on your location in the UK, you may need to travel a little further to find one. You can use the search tool provided by resolution.org.uk to find out which collaborative divorce lawyers are in your area.


Do you need help with your divorce?

Get in touch now with one of our panel of specialist local family solicitors.

If relevant, please include below the name of the other party (so the solicitor can check they have not already provided advice to your partner):

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Your details are NOT used by Wiselaw after you submit them. Your data is secured and encrypted the moment you send it. By sending this form you agree to Wiselaw's Terms and Privacy Policy. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

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