Collaborative Divorce in a Nutshell – What every client needs to know
Step 1 – Preparation
Each client signs a Collaborative Retainer Agreement with his/her lawyer (this will set out the lawyer’s hourly rate, retainer requirements and the relationship between the lawyer and the client) and has a conversation about lawyers fees with their lawyer
- Each client has a lawyer/client preparation meeting to get education about the process and how it will work
- The lawyers have a preparation meeting to discuss how they will work together to try to ensure that the negotiations will be a success
- Clients review the Collaborative Commitment Agreement (with their lawyers and each on his/her own)
- Clients use a checklist provided by their lawyer to start gathering information to bring to the first “4 Way Meeting”
- If clients have children, we request that they register for and attend the Parenting After Separation Seminar as soon as possible (before the first meeting is ideal)
Step 2 – 4 Way Meetings Start
The basic structure of the meetings is set out in the steps below:
- Review and sign the Collaborative Commitment Agreement
- Ask the clients why they chose Collaboration
- Identify goals and interests of the clients
- Identify the questions the clients need answered in their negotiation
- Deal with any “pressing” (urgent) issues at every meeting – if either client has “pressing” (urgent) issues we need to address them
- Gather information – (usually about parenting/children, income and expenses and assets & debts) – sometimes this means engaging other professionals to help gather information – accountants, child specialists, appraisers, valuators etc. (Gathering information can take several meetings depending on the complexity of the matter)
- Lawyers give legal advice
- Go back to the questions and start to answer them by creating options
- Evaluate the options created – will they work? Are they consistent with the goals and interests previously identified?
- Negotiate to an acceptable solution (creating proposals from the options)
Step 3 – Closure
- Clients can request any kind of special closure ceremony at the final meeting (sometimes all that’s wanted are some firm handshakes)
- Lawyers draft the divorce documents and the legally binding Agreement
- Sometimes we have a signing 4 way meeting; sometimes clients sign separately
- The legal documents are reviewed (usually before the signing meeting and at the signing meeting) and revised; new agreements are sometimes negotiated
- The lawyers consult a checklist to make sure everything has been addressed
- We review your questions and goals – were your questions all answered? How did you do in meeting your goals?
- The Agreement is signed by each client with his/her lawyer, separate and apart from the other client – each client is given “independent” legal advice at that time
- Necessary Court documents (consent documents) are filed with the Court
- Sometimes there is a wait for the Divorce Judgment as there are various external factors that often prevent a quick divorce – but once the Divorce Judgment is granted, there is a 30 day waiting period for the Certificate of Divorce
- The divorce is not final until the Certificate of Divorce is issued.
What will it cost me?
Cost is entirely dependent on how much time it takes to resolve matters. Most meetings are 2 to 3 hours long. Most lawyers charge between $300 and $700 an hour. If a lawyer charges $400 per hour, then a 2.5 hour meeting would cost $1000 plus 5% GST (making it $1050). At the beginning, because of the preparation meetings, the cost can escalate fairly quickly. After agreements are reached, you will also be paying for your lawyer’s time to draft the legal documents necessary.
Lawyers generally ask for a retainer of at least $5000 as a down payment on fees, but each lawyer is different. Ask your lawyer in the first meeting what his/her fees and retainer policy is.
If you do not have money for a retainer, how you will pay legal fees can be a pressing issue to be negotiated in Collaboration. If one spouse has access to money and the other spouse does not, usually the lawyer for the spouse with money will encourage the other spouse to make it available so that the process can begin. How that money will be allocated between the two spouses can be discussed in Collaboration.
On average, most Collaborative Divorces reach a conclusion in 6 to 10 meetings – which can result in a cost of about $12,500 to $20,000 per person. But every couple is different, and how much your Collaborative Divorce will cost is a function of:
- Whether or not you have both moved on and are ready to tackle the issues in a businesslike manner
- The complexity of your situation
- Whether or not you need to involve other professionals (child specialist, financial specialist, appraisers etc.)
- Whether or not either of you have a disability or a mental health concern
- How well your children are handling the divorce
- Whether or not there was any abuse of any kind during the relationship
- How you and your spouse communicate
- Whether or not you and your spouse can negotiate respectfully
- Whether you and your spouse are able to effectively manage your emotions associated with the separation in a way that does not negatively impact the progress you make
- Whether both of your lawyers support Collaboration (and are Collaborative lawyers)
- Whether both of you feel some pressure to settle as a result of time, costs and uncertainty of Court outcomes
- The history the two of you have in problem solving and working together
- Both of you are willing to share information and documents about financial matters and the children
- Whether or not the two of you are able to think flexibly
- Whether or not you and your spouse are moderate thinkers and behave moderately