Collaborative Approach

The Collaborative Approach is known as “the clients’ process.” The clients choose this approach when they desire to work out their differences face to face with their lawyers by their side. The clients are empowered to work together to find the best family-focused resolution to their unique problems arising from their separation.With full financial disclosure up front, and a mutual sharing of urgent and long-term goals and desires, the clients pool their viable options. They discuss the risks, advantages, and consequences with counsel to find a durable resolution. Putting the pieces together with trusted guidance, strategy, and legal advice means the job is done properly and with a solid solution everyone will be satisfied with.

Best-Suited Client: Dignified Settlement Focused

The collaborative approach is a dignified family-friendly approach to negotiating settlements designed to keep families out of the courtroom. Clients select this process because they want to resolve problems not only for themselves but with the needs of the children kept foremost. They want to express their concerns and wishes directly to their partner or spouse but with the support and legal advice of their lawyers, who remain beside them at all times. The focus is on the future, not a rehashing of past differences and disagreements.There may be differences of opinion expressed and difficult subjects discussed. Life happens. By taking the time at the beginning to agree to communication guidelines such as one speaker at a time—a simple but effective rule—everyone will be heard. Views and preferences of each client will be considered and balanced with the best interests of the children. Financial needs will be canvassed and understood with the economic consequences of each decision along the way.The meetings with clients and counsel take place in a safe environment, meaning that no threats or coercive tactics will be used to direct an unacceptable arrangement. Mistakes are disclosed and corrected.

The Flexible, Creative Process

The clients separately retain their own collaboratively trained family law lawyer. Privately, the client tells their story, explains what they wish to accomplish, and learns more about the process. The lawyer will develop strategies to present the client’s best case, deal with issues presenting a possible risk to her client, and develop settlement options.The collaborative approach has five steps:

  1. Review and sign the Participation Agreement which sets out each participant’s responsibility to the process and to each other. The Agreement specifies who, if anybody, will act as necessary impartial advisors to assist with special areas such a parenting arrangement or tax issues.
  2. Share financial information: complete sworn financial statements with supporting documentation; jointly arrange for business, pension, and land valuations, as needed.
  3. Propose viable settlement options, verify or eliminate assumptions, and develop a consensus.
  4. Evaluate consequences of the best options for settlement for each family member over time.
  5. Agree on terms for a comprehensive and mutually satisfying settlement; draft and sign the agreement.

Sometimes new information will be needed to respond to an inquiry; sometimes it will be time to caucus with the lawyer privately, or invite a mediator to step in for a complex matter to be resolved before other matters can be considered. Flexibility and creative options make the process reflect the client’s unique circumstances.

Cost Effective

Cost is an important factor, and so is getting good value for each dollar spent. Bringing in neutral advisors to be engaged by both clients complements the lawyers’ combined experience and simply makes good economic sense.

Clients appreciate the long-term value in jointly retaining, when needed:

  • an impartial family advisor to assist them:
    • with developing a customized parenting plan
    • to keep communication flowing at group meetings; for example, if emotions begin to obstruct the process
    • to help recognize and remove any roadblocks if they occur
  • a neutral financial advisor to provide:
    • accurate determination of income in compliance with the Child Support Guidelines
    • proper calculations for child and spousal support
    • plain-language explanations of potential tax consequences to various settlement proposals
    • equalization of the “knowledge” so both clients understand the financial aspects
  • the collaboratively trained business valuator who can help:
    • value the business for sharing its value with a spouse or partner
    • introduce a shareholder agreement provision to divest business interests upon separation
    • explain the intricacies of the business to the silent-partner spouse
    • find an alternative benefit by satisfying an equalization payment while keeping the business viable
    • offer advice relating to the sale, partition or reorganization of the business


With a concerted effort by both spouses or by both partners to find the best future for the family, the results are most often positive for each client. A separation agreement incorporating all the terms reached in settlement is drafted by the lawyers in a cooperative fashion. Each client is independently given legal advice to as the nature and consequences of the agreed terms.

Success of a full settlement—including, sometimes, a reconciliation of the spouses—reaches a rate of about 97% of the clients using the collaborative approach. The partial settlement rate where almost all issues are resolved is about 2%. Failure to reach any settlement is about 1%.