Collaborative practice, also referred to as collaborative law, is a client-centered process for settling issues related to separation and divorce.

Collaborative practice is a fairly new option for separating families. It began in the United States in the early 1990's, and first became available in Vancouver in 1999.

I chose to work in the Collaborative model in 1999, and was one of the founders of the Vancouver collaborative group (now called the Vancouver Collaborative Divorce Association).

Collaborative practice provides comprehensive legal and emotional support and financial expertise to you during your divorce or the resolution of other family legal issues. It differs from traditional legal services in these ways:

  • The process is entirely based on moving you and your partner to resolution of all of the issues that are important to both of you.
  • The lawyers are not hired to go to court. While you and your partner are in collaborative practice, everyone (you and your spouse, both lawyers, and any other professionals involved in the case) are covered by a written agreement (the Participation Agreement) that says no one involved will appear in court. So long as you and your spouse are in the collaborative process, neither one of you will bring on a court application.
  • If you are not successful in resolving matters in the collaborative process, then either you or your spouse may hire a new lawyer to start a court application.
  • Both spouses agree to make full disclosure of all necessary documents and information, and agree to negotiate in good faith.

One of the assumptions of collaborative practice is this: since about 90-95% of family matters settle without a trial, it does not make sense (economically or emotionally) for those people who are able to settle their matters to have to start in a court process.


Collaborative Divorce - A Safe Place
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In Vancouver, we are lucky to have an interdisciplinary group of collaborative professionals. Our group includes lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial specialists.

Although collaborative law is flexible enough to meet the needs of a variety of situations that arise in the separation and divorce process, collaborative law is not for everyone. It requires a commitment on the part of both parties to working together honestly and with integrity. It also requires a desire from the couple to work with their lawyers to resolve the issues, instead of relying on an outside third party (a judge) to make decisions for them. Without this commitment, the process won't work.


The interdisciplinary collaborative model includes different professional groups. You may choose to use lawyers only. You may also choose to enlist the support of other professionals, depending upon your needs, the level of conflict between you and your spouse, and whether or not you have children. My clients may choose to involve divorce coaches, a child specialist and a financial adviser during any part of their work towards resolution. You can choose to retain professionals that will be used only as much as you require, and whose specific skills are geared to your needs. On an hourly basis, counselors are less expensive than lawyers, and more skilled in working with the emotional component of divorce. Financial specialists are also less expensive than lawyers on an hourly basis, and can bring financial-specific skills and training to the process.

Role of the Divorce Coach: Divorce coaches are professional counselors that have either masters or doctoral degrees in the mental health fields. They are particularly trained in both mediation and in collaborative process. You can use these professionals to help support you through the emotional turmoil of separation. As well, they assist in helping you and your spouse communicate as you work towards resolving matters. They have particular expertise in the needs of children of different ages, and can help the two of you put together a parenting plan that works for both of you and is tailored to your children's particular needs.

The most important factor for children whose parents are separating is that the children not be exposed to conflict. Since everyone agrees that the divorce transition should be managed in a way that best meets the children's interests, divorce coaches are often used to help with education and communication around parenting.

Role of the Child Specialist: Sometimes parents do not agree on what is best for the children after a divorce. Sometimes parents have different views about what children's desires are. In these cases, a child specialist can be brought in for the particular purpose of allowing the children to have a voice. A child specialist does not align with or support either parent. Child specialists are neutral to the parents, and are specifically hired to help the parents receive unbiased information from and about their children. The child specialist will meet with the parents and with the divorce coaches to give the parents the information they need in order to help hem build the best parenting plan to meet the needs of their particular children.

Role of the Financial Specialist: A financial specialist can be retained to give specific financial information to both spouses. This can include explanations about any complicated financial or corporate arrangements. It can include budgeting help if this is necessary. Financial specialists can also provide projections that help each spouse project into the future and get an idea of different future financial scenarios based on different proposals. In this way, we can more easily tailor a settlement to you needs and goals.


If you choose to use the collaborative model, you will meet individually with your lawyer and you will work in what we call four way meetings. The four way meetings will include you and your spouse and both of your lawyers.

Your meetings with your lawyer will include advice and support through all stages of working towards resolution of the matters at issue between you and your spouse. The length of time you spend in these meetings will depend upon your needs, the complexity of your case, the level of conflict between you and your spouse, and how long it takes you to move to finality.
The for way meetings emphasize respectful communication, and provide a place for you to negotiate a settlement with your spouse with the assistance, support, and legal advice provided by your lawyers.

When the two of you have resolved all matters between you, then the lawyers will draft up a separation agreement, which is a legal document that sets out how you and your spouse have resolved matters. The separation agreement can be filed with the court to enforce support or custody. After the separation agreement is signed, then you and your spouse can proceed with a divorce, which can be done by a mutual, non-adversarial application to the court.


If you are using divorce coaches, you may also have four way meetings with you and your spouse and the divorce coaches, separate from the meetings with the lawyers. These "coaches four way meetings" will be used to cover such things as a parenting plan for the children and communication building between you and your spouse.


All professions bill according to how much time they spend, based on their respective hourly rates. Your resulting fees will be determined by how much support you need through the divorced process, by how much conflict exists between you and your spouse, and by how many times we need to meet to work through all issues.

I believe in clear and open communication about bills and professional fees. I understand that it is important for clients to receive the benefit of the professional fees that they spend, and I welcome conversations about how to best work towards resolving your legal issues in a cost efficient manner without sacrificing good outcomes for you or your children.