Collaborative law can be an effective way to handle high-conflict cases of separation and divorce, including those involving domestic violence and substance abuse, says Toronto family lawyer Elinor Shinehoft.
While many people believe collaborative divorce, which involves interest-based negotiations, is only available to ex-spouses who still get along, it can also be used in highly volatile situations or cases of infidelity, says Shinehoft, principal of Shinehoft Law.
“Those are actually really good disputes to put through collaborative law,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Shinehoft says neutral professionals can be employed to weigh in on complex financial, social or psychological issues throughout the process of negotiation.
“They can help calm and diffuse the situation and determine what may be preventing negotiations from moving forward.”
It is often rare that everyone arrives at the negotiating table at the same place, she adds.
“One spouse may be ready to separate, and the other may not,” Shinehoft says. “So in a collaborative setting, since you’re working together, you have all of these professionals acting as a team to come up with the best solution.”
A collaborative setting can actually be the safest for those involved in domestic violence and substance abuse because of that team approach, she says.
Shinehoft, who is trained in collaborative law, strongly believes in its effectiveness and says it could be the wave of the future as individuals find legal solutions that avoid court while also being faster and less expensive.
“The courts are so backlogged,” she says. “It takes months to even get initial court dates. I think it’s just a better way of dealing with things in a more respectful manner, where everybody can have a win/win. It doesn’t have to be a win/lose.”
When parties choose to pursue this type of divorce, they each hire a collaborative lawyer and sign agreements promising the matter won’t proceed to court. If a resolution isn’t possible, the collaborative lawyer doesn’t proceed with the file.
“The idea is to work together to come up with creative solutions that work best for that particular family,” she says. “It’s done in a way where parties maintain respect for each other and preserve their relationships with the children. It’s just an all-out better way, and they’re going to come out feeling better in what is already a stressful situation.”
The process is often less expensive than court because certain documents don’t need to be drafted. Time is saved by creating schedules that work for the parties involved without waiting for court dates.
Families are also able to come up with plans that may not reflect what would otherwise be determined in the court system where decisions impacting the family are imposed by a judge.
“Often in court, you could end up with no one being happy. In the collaborative route, since you’re all working together, the process isn’t going to end until everyone has a resolution they can live with long term and move on with their lives.”