The Collaborative Process


Authored By Catherine Sousa

There are different ways we family lawyers can suggest for helping separating couples sort out their finances and/or children issues. One option is the collaborative process. This gives couples much more control over what will happen. It involves the couple and their solicitors sitting round the table in so-called four-way meetings to discuss matters. Other professionals, such as a pensions expert, an accountant and family consultant, can be brought into these meetings to make them five-way, six-way etc. Everyone signs up to a participation agreement at the outset to confirm their commitment to the process, and confirming they will not make an application to the court to litigate matters. There is a vested interest on everyone's part to resolve matters within the process as, if it breaks down, the couple has to start again with new lawyers. It is very rare that the process breaks down as careful consideration is given to whether this process is appropriate beforehand.

A small group of collaborative lawyers and other professionals in the Southampton area, me included, are now offering a more holistic model of the collaborative process which we have called Hampshire Family Legal Solutions.

The model is based on teamwork, involving from the outset support for the couple in the three key areas: legal; financial; emotional and behavioural. We have an intake meeting for a fixed fee with each of the couple being able to meet with their lawyers, a family consultant and a financial consultant. The needs of any children are very much in the forefront of our minds. Going forward we can then put forward a bespoke proposal of how to resolve matters. This would usually be via meetings round the table, but other options can be suggested too if need be. Consideration can be given as to which professionals it would be helpful to have involved.

The intake meeting does not commit the couple to any process in particular but offers a useful opportunity for the couple and the other professionals to find out the issues and see what the best way forward is.

So far five couples have used the intake process and found it has helped them reach an agreement. The speed with which matters can be resolved using this model is attractive, rather than enduring delays incurred by solicitors' letters going backwards and forwards or waiting for the court to list a hearing . It is possible to achieve a great deal sitting around a table with the right professionals providing assistance.

We are hoping this process will continue to gain momentum and assist more couples achieve a fair outcome in an environment with the support they need. Please contact any of our members as shown on our website for further information.