Legal: Collaborative approach to family law at Edinburgh conference

FAMILY lawyers are being offered an opportunity this week to learn more about the positive benefits a collaborative approach can bring their clients in easing the pain of separation or divorce.

The EICC hosts the 4th European Collaborative Conference, Creating Consensus, on Friday and Saturday – and brings together lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. It will look at the growing impact of Collaborative Practice in Scotland, and at what can be learned from other countries, where the approach is more advanced.

Around 12,000 families in Scotland undergo radical change each year, with parents separating or divorcing and thousands of children forced to go through an often painful and bitter process.

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Collaborative practice is becoming an established method of dispute resolution. The process involves solicitors and clients meeting together in four-way meetings to talk through the issues. The process particularly supports separated parents who will co-parent their children providing a forum to discuss the arrangements for their children in a constructive and supportive environment.

In essence, the Collaborative Practice approach requires the two parties to retain separate, specially-trained lawyers whose job is to help reach a reasonable settlement. There is a commitment to negotiating agreement, and that neither side may litigate against the other.

This engenders a more creative and respectful approach, as opposed to the more traditional tactical bargaining – often involving threats of litigation - which goes on. The lawyers must guide the process towards reasonable solutions or withdraw from the process.

Both sides sign a binding agreement to disclose all documents and information that relate to the issues at the start of the process. Experts such as accountants and surveyors are jointly instructed if they are required.

The conference will be attended by Scottish Collaborative practitioners, family lawyers interested in learning more, accountants and other professionals who are involved in advising around family breakdowns. Keynote speakers from England, the USA and Canada will attend.

Conference Chairman Craig Samson of Blackadders explained: “The rise in Collaboration in Scotland as a means of reducing conflict and allowing parents to tailor child-focused arrangements for the benefit of their family is hugely encouraging. While still relatively few solicitors are trained to practise collaboratively, we are seeing an increasing number of referrals from solicitors whose clients want a better way to resolve their issues.

“The impact of separation upon children and families could be improved by encouraging greater co-operation and less conflict to help people work through the difficulties. It also allows them to keep greater control over the decision-making process.”

Scotland’s Collaborative practitioners are also delighted to be given the opportunity learn more, and to raise the profile of collaboration.

Lesley Gordon, Head of the Family Law team at Lindsays, said: “We only have to look to the high profile divorce and custody battles played out in the media – such as Katie Price and Peter Andre, or Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills - for examples of the sorts of negative issues that can arise for all concerned. Avoiding these kinds of destructive scenarios should be paramount, especially where children are concerned. That is where Collaborative Practice comes into its own. Anything that can help people who are divorcing or separating to work together to make joint decisions for the future that puts children’s needs first is a good thing.”

Cath Karlin, who heads Family Law at bto, and was instrumental in bringing Collaborative Practice to Scotland, said: “The traditional adversarial approach sets parents against one another and children often lose out. Through Collaborative Practice parents benefit from finding ways of communicating, resolving differences and decision making in their new role as co-parents.”

Shaun George, lead of the Family law team and partner at Simpson & Marwick commented: “The Collaborative law process is worth considering if you wish to achieve a civilised, respectful resolution of the issues, maintain a cooperative relationship with your partner and put in place the best co-parenting relationship possible for any children in the relationship.”