Collaborative Approach to Family Law

While on a plane back from an excellent Collaborative Law Conference in Phoenix last month, I wrote the following notes on my blackberry. If you have a blackberry and you know how small the keys are, you will appreciate how excited I was about the conference, to have been motivated to write this much:

“When was it decided that family law issues ought to go to court? How much of what separating family are dealing with actually involves the legal system?

What families need in the most difficult time of their lives is support from trained professionals, some of which will be legal. Family Law Lawyers can assist in drawing up and reviewing agreements, and we can help our clients to understand their rights and obligations arising from their marriage, common law relationship and subsequent separation. We can help to explain child support laws, division of property, entitlement to spousal support and a host of other issues that are legal in nature. But we can’t do it all.

What strikes me the longer I practice family law is the number of clients who come to me with problems that are not legal, for example.

– we have 6 month old twins, when is it acceptable for them to spend a week at a time with each parent?

– my fourteen year old son won’t go to his mother’s house, what’s wrong with him?

– should I take half of the RRSP or should I take cash and invest it in the stock market?

– what will my income be in 5 years if I decline periodic spousal support and opt for a lump sum buyout? What income can I expect to generate from my investments?

Now, I may have a pretty good guess at some of the answers, and of course common sense and logic is helpful. We also have reference materials and case law to help and to guide and advise our clients, but I feel slightly uncomfortable when clients ask me for help in solving issues that aren’t actually legal. There are limits to what the courts can do and so often the Judges will end up writing decisions in which their discomfort is patently obvious. They recognize that the parents, who are in the best position to make decisions for their children, haven’t been able to reach agreement regarding children, so the courts are forced to decide. It’s an uncomfortable position and I believe that there are other better options. Child specialists and financial specialists are available to help families with issues that arise from separation that are not legal in nature. I think we can offer families so much more when we get them the help they really need rather than leading them down the litigation fast track – to a trial which will destroy relationships, deplete bank accounts and take control out of the hands of those in the best position to made decisions.”

Food for thought.