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Helping families deal with separation

Seeking solutions: executives from a variety of fields exploring the benefits of the collaborative law philosophy

The word is spreading on the applications of collaborative law, a harmonious approach to navigating a breakdown in a relationship.

“I’m really excited that we are opening it up to other areas of personal conflict,” said lawyer Jacqueline MacLellan, president of the collaborative law alliance of Bermuda.

Her latest three-day course is advancing a movement that Ms MacLellan introduced to the island in 2006 as “a less destructive way to assist families going through a separation”.

“I’ve seen so much of the misery that the court process that it became very important for me to provide this,” she said.

“It is still something that a lot of people have not heard about — if more people sought it out, it would be better for society.”

The fourth such course includes guest speaker Nathalie Boutet, a family lawyer from Canada, where family law is “very prevalent”.

“It is suited for all clients, which is why it’s so flexible,” Ms Boutet said. “We have the training to elicit what’s really important to couples and families, which is to reach an agreement that is fitted to their needs.”

Jane Collis, a senior associate at MJM barristers, deals with estates and property, but deals increasingly with family issues.

“There are many contentious issues and also not a lot of money; people are on really tight budgets,” she said.

“If we can find a solution that’s cost effective and allows for family reconciliation, that has a huge impact.”

Also attending the course was Dianne Blais, of Barrington Investments Limited.

“I also come across a lot of estate challenges where it would be useful to refer clients to lawyers that aren’t going to charge them a massive amount to help themselves through the process, rather than going to the courts.

“This will help educate the community that these options are available.”

For Alexandra Wheatley, a legal aid counsel, collaborative law proves useful in taking the relationships between parties into account.

“They are going to have an ongoing relationship, probably for the rest of their lives,” Ms Wheatley explained.

“The collaborative process encourages that relationship, rather having than the destructive nature that court proceedings can bring about. At the end of the day, everybody wants matters to be resolved in a reasonable and amicable fashion.”

As a psychotherapist at Synergy Ltd, Lorrie Peniston has been involved as a collaborative coach since 2010.

“If a couple is not successful in their efforts to repair their marriage, the collaborative process does not undo the positive steps that they made in their relationship by eliminating the tension,” she said.

“As a collaborative coach, I help couples to navigate their own issues — and I try to help them craft an agreement, so that they can keep their children’s wellbeing to the fore.”

Added Ms Wheatley: “Unfortunately, you find that many of the young people that come up in the family courts can end up being known in the criminal system.

“If the collaborative process could be used in the family courts, it just might be able to foster an environment that avoids that outcome.”

Also taking part in the seminar are Taaj Jamal, Cristen Seuss, Fiona Gores and Celia Tuzo.