In this week's column Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution, the English family lawyers association, speaks to our CEO Andy Friedman about the concept of collaborative practice and how it can support families in times of difficulty.
‘He controls the money,’ sobbed Mrs B. ‘I don’t understand it. He must have plenty stashed away.’ Jo Edwards knew that if this divorce went straight to court, the money issues could sour discussions about arrangements for the children. She suggested collaborative practice, a form of dispute resolution in which both sets of lawyers and clients sit round a table and work out a solution led by the clients, instead of lawyers battling it out in court.
Collaboration is not the obvious choice for separating couples. So at first Jo explains this option: ‘At that time I hold off on standard legal advice in order not to prejudice the collaborative process with one or another party hanging onto the advice, making it difficult to resolve the case.’
Jo is Chair of Resolution, the English family lawyers association which trains lawyers and other professionals in collaboration and mediation techniques. Collaborative practice was introduced in the USA 20 years ago; Resolution brought the training to England in 2003.
At the first collaborative meeting all sign up to a participation agreement. Nobody can then issue court proceedings without giving notice. If they do, the lawyers cannot be involved in litigation of the case. Jo calls the next meeting the crunchy one, when people start talking through possible outcomes. ‘Mrs B said very little. It can be a scary place if you don’t understand the finances. I said to her, “This is about you. You have a voice here.” Over the next meetings she was able to stand up to her husband, who in retrospect was trying not to disclose all his assets.’
The Bs did reach a settlement. ‘Their eldest daughter got married last year and there was no conflict between the parents. The collaboration process allowed them to have a dignified divorce.’
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 20 February 2015
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