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March 31, 2010

Separating together

By Spear's

Divorcing using the process of collaborative law – rather than an immediate appearance in court, QCs’ gowns gently flapping in the cross-currents of legal hot air – seems a rather sane solution

We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The hard way will be much more fun (and bring much more emolument) for our lawyers and will probably result in at least one of us having a nervous breakdown. The easy will be cheaper, quicker, less stressful and may even not make our children hate us.

When you put it like that, divorcing using the process of collaborative law – rather than an immediate appearance in court, QCs’ gowns gently flapping in the cross-currents of legal hot air – seems a rather sane solution. It is certainly one which a growing number of HNWs are taking up.

Gillian Bishop, a trained collaborative lawyer with Family Law in Partnership, has produced A Client’s Guide to Collaborative Divorce, a brief but useful manual which explains the basic principles: the court is not involved, except to endorse the settlement; the divorcing couple must act openly and civilly; the lawyers work together, not against one another.

One of the best things about collaborative law for HNWs, says Gilliam, is that “it allows for privacy, because everything is conducted out of the public eye,” unlike in courts (now more open than ever). Gillian cites the US divorce of Roy Disney, which made little press because they did not drag it through the courts. “There are no statements on the court steps, no glasses of water thrown.”

Anecdotally, Gillian says, she has heard of a £180 million divorce handled collaboratively.

It also protects the children from acrimony: “For any children involved, the collaborative model is best for keeping parents in a sufficiently good state of communication.” By ensuring the parents meet, they can confront their problems rather than poisoning their children with them.

But surely it is the lawyers’ interest to ensure long and messy divorces? Fees can mount up quickly. Yes, says Gillian Bishop, “if they’ve got a short-term view, and they’ll make much more money by taking it to court, but what you get much more frequently with collaborative law is satisfied clients who will recommend you. It’s not a panacea, but I don’t think it serves lawyers well when money is as tight as it is these days. Client are much more discerning.”

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The keyword, Gillian says, is “humane”: by talking rather than fighting, you may survive your divorce and even be happy on the other side.

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