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Collaborative law takes the mess out of divorce

Family lawyer Katie Richards has already received the first calls of the New Year from people who’ve decided they want a divorce.According to Ms Richards, the post-Christmas months are the busiest one in any divorce attorney’s calender.However, she’s now trained in a new method of handling cases that she hopes will remove the nastiness from this year’s batch of break-ups.The collaborative law method was pioneered in Bermuda by family law practitioners Jacqueline MacLellan and Honor Desmond Tetlow. It’s already common in Canada and becoming popular in England.Ms Richards, who works at Wakefield Quin, is among seven lawyers on the Island now offering the option.Collaborative divorce is also known as ‘no-court divorce’ and allows spouses to have the protection and guidance of their lawyers without going to court. It aims to bring about a mutually acceptable settlement through frank communication during face-to-face meetings.Each spouse brings their lawyer to a four-way conference which aims to set and achieve priorities without confrontation. Ms Richards explained that even couples who hope to stay friendly during the traditional divorce process can get angry once letters start flying between lawyers.“When you first start engaging in a war of correspondence and ‘he said, she said’ that small glimmer disappears,” she said.“The first thing we do [with the collaborative approach] is have a four-way meeting where we discuss the top priorities for the clients. This is usually immediate access arrangements if they’ve just separated and there are children, and also short-term finances.“If there’s a challenge in terms of either client’s behaviour, if they’ve been abusive or difficult in the past, we have clear communication guidelines.”–She said the process allows for outside professionals such as divorce coaches, joint financial advisors and parenting counsellors to be brought in to help. The outcome is more likely to work than if a settlement is simply imposed by a judge.Ms Richards will offer the collaborative law approach to all future clients many of whom will have decided over the festive turkey that they don’t want to be married any more. “When they’re in a confined space together over Christmas and they’re off work and sometimes alcohol is involved it’s as if your New Year’s resolution is ‘I’m not going to continue this year the way it has been’,” she said.“Certainly in the first few months after Christmas it is fair to say there usually is an increase in business. But if the couple has decided to separate, collaborative law is an option that’s available to them. It allows you to use an established system with a clear structure and code of conduct to reach a resolution that will be driven by them.”For more information, or to contact the Collaborative Law Alliance of Bermuda, visit: www.cla.bm.