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Collaborative law is the ‘way to go’

Family law expert: Katie Richards

Collaborative law is emerging as a low cost and more effective alternative for resolving family disputes over traditional litigation, according to family lawyer Katie Richards.

She said that the pain inflicted on families by divorce or separation was often less than the harm caused by the manner in which couples split.

“Collaborative law is not for everyone,” Ms Richards cautioned, noting that the process needs candour, a willingness to disclose information honestly in relation to assets, and “a genuine desire to reach an amicable agreement that is fair to the whole family”.

“With the tough economic climate that we currently live in, to know that as well as potentially reducing legal costs, the collaborative process may also reduce the anguish and hostility that is linked with marriage breakdown provides hope to separating couples that there is another way.”

Collaborative law is “relatively new” in Bermuda, avoiding the adversarial recourse of a traditional courtroom. As an avenue for separations, collaborative law was described as “the way to go” by former Attorney-General Marc Pettingill, who earlier this year set up the firm where Ms Richards works.

The economic downturn has also proven unforgiving on divorcing couples who bought property in more optimistic times, and struggle with mortgage debts that exceed the value of their properties. The collaboration requires couples and their lawyers to work out negotiations in four-way meetings, face to face. Collaborative lawyers also agree not to represent the parties in court if the process breaks down.

“Given that the aim of the collaborative process is to avoid contentious litigation and to negotiate a settlement, collaborative law is often confused with mediation,” Ms Richards said.

“Although mediation is another form of dispute resolution, the primary difference is that the collaborative practice proactively guides the couples to reach an agreement with both parties and the lawyers working closely as a team.

“In mediation, the mediator does not advise or represent the clients and they need to seek advice from their solicitors during the process.”

• More information can be found at www.cla.bm.