COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW Part 3 – The Costs


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Spousal TrustThe last – but not least – concern our readers may have with regards to Collaborative Family Law is the costs. At first glance, the process may seem more robust and therefore more expensive. At a closer look, however, you will find out that it is in fact the opposite. This approach will usually cost far less than the usual process of taking things to curt. Let us explain.

Is the process expensive and how to control costs?

Expense is difficult to summarize except to say the with all the variables the costs for a collaborative approach will virtually always be far more within reason than any court based process. Expense in all family matters depends on a 4 factors:

  1. Complexity of issues
  2. Client expectations
  3. Degree of conflict
  4. Selection of counsel

Complexity depends on the actual situation the clients find themselves in; it is what it is; a complex parenting dispute will require more resources than one where the parties are in virtual agreement at the start. Clients who own businesses or a complex of assets will require more attention to the financial component than a short marriage where both have little assets and basic employment income.

Client expectations, the intensity of the conflict and the personal tendencies of the lawyers are the unknown factors and can inflate the costs. How well does the lawyer manage what the client expects? The collaborative process is directed towards keeping these 3 unknown factors restrained so costs are kept within the range of all income levels.

Use of Teams – does this make the process more expensive?

It might be counter-intuitive but the use of family and financial professionals do not increase costs. The opposite is more likely the case.

On the financial side the financial professional collects and prepares financial documentation at a lower cost than the lawyers. Since the financial expert is working for both parties you are paying their hourly rate once, which gets split between the parties. An added bonus is that a prime source for dispute is removed. One batch of financials is prepared as opposed to two. The financial expert is completely neutral so the lawyers can trust the financial data produced and discuss substance instead of spending time questioning each other’s financial disclosures. Similarly if business valuations are needed the use of a neutral valuator simplifies the process and dramatically reduces the costs for multiple reports duplicating costs. This saves you money on the considerably more expensive lawyer hourly fees.

Additional savings are achieved because the professionals only work as needed. If there is no identified need the family or financial professional will not attend meetings and no fees will be incurred. Often when the professional, whether the family or financial, are working, there is no need for the lawyers to be there, so you are not paying a lawyer even though critical work is being completed.

The role of the professional is limited in the process. The family professional may only have to make an initial consultation to evaluate the preparedness of the parties for the process and to screen for domestic violence. If there is nothing that would raise concerns, there may be no further need for that professional. But if at some point an incident threatens to derail the process, the reintroduction of the family professional may be the best choice, perfectly suited for overcoming the issue and getting the process back on track.

I consider it safe to say that any agreement reached in the collaborative process will be completed at far lower costs than the same result would be in a more traditional setting. At the same time, the circumstances of one situation may result in costs very different from another. It is fair to say that the more complex the financial circumstances or the more difficult the parenting issues are, the higher the cost will be. Whatever this costs, however, it still represents a far lower consumption of the parties’ resources than a traditional scenario.

How flexible is the process?

The beauty of the collaborative approach is that it can be moulded to clients’ needs. What does this mean in the context of collaborative law? Essentially since the process is designed to fit the specific needs of clients, their goals, objectives and interests, the design of the process can be streamlined to accommodate those. When sides are in basic agreement on several or most points, or if they have a deep commitment to avoiding bitter fighting, an abbreviated process can be used with no loss of the holistic approach.

What am I looking for in a collaborative lawyer?

An increasing number of lawyers train in the collaborative approach but not all who train and claim to offer services are equally collaboratively inclined. The nature of the process demands a good listener. Many of the traits that go into a good collaborative lawyer are similar to those that make a good mediator. Aside from traditional skills and knowledge of law expected from a more traditional lawyer, there is additional need for an ability to handle conflict and deal with different personality types.

There is no sure method for finding the lawyer with all the necessary skills. Each has different strengths. One essential criterion is the level of comfort. Are you comfortable with the lawyer? Have your interests and objectives been understood? Since the process will be focused around these, it is essential for you that they are understood and integrated into the process.

What experience has the lawyer had in collaborative files? With an increasing number of lawyers are commencing to practice in this area it will not be difficult to find a lawyer, but, this being a relatively new approach, most will be without extensive experience in it. However, this is still not a reason for rejecting them.

Openness and a commitment to resolving disputes through a collaborative team approach can make up for lack of extensive experience. Remember, the process is based on the principle that no one takes unfair advantage of the other, weaknesses in one area are not to be used to gain advantages, and lawyers work together to ensure the parties achieve an agreement they can live with long term and that the process will develop the skills for them to manage future issues as much as possible by themselves without having to go to lawyers.

We hope this explains the topic at hand. If you have any additional questions on this regard or would like to procure the services of our firm, feel free to contact us via email or phone.

Article written by Yoel Lichtblau Hon. B.A., J.D., M.B.A.