What Is Collaborative Family Law?

Collaborative Family Law, calgary family lawyers, family law, ADR

Collaborative Family Law

Collaborative Family Law (“CFL”) is one of the most effective and innovative dispute resolution processes available to people going through separation or divorce. It has been developed over the last approximately 30 years. Also, it has gained increasing popularity in Alberta over the past 15 to 20 years. It has many characteristics that set it apart from any other dispute resolution process available.

Characteristics of Collaborative Family Law

These are the most important characteristics that you should know about, and the benefits of each characteristic:

The Contract – No Court Allowed

  1. The parties sign a contract (called a Participation Agreement). In the contract they commit to resolving issues without using the court. If either party backs out of the Participation Agreement and goes to court, the lawyers on the file have to withdraw. Both parties must then either each get new lawyers, or represent themselves.
    1. It is possible for one or the other party to end the CFL process by going to court. But the benefit of the Participation Agreement is that both parties will generally want to stick to the process. This is because it can be very expensive to start over with a new lawyer. These “start over” costs incentivize both parties to continue to work hard toward reaching a negotiated settlement. Thus ensuring that the settlement is fair to both of them.

The Collaborative Negotiation Meetings

  1. The parties address and resolve all outstanding issues regarding the separation or divorce. This is done in one or more meetings involving both parties and their lawyers.
    1. The parties’ respective lawyers provide legal advice, or suggestions on how to resolve the issues during the meetings. This process is done in front of both parties for three reasons. One, it is extremely helpful to the parties because it eliminates concern about what the opposite party’s “actual” position might be. Two, it prevents one party from maneuvering the other into a “bad deal”. Third, each party gets to hear the perspective of both lawyers regarding options for settlement. This in turn allows the parties to see how the law applies to their particular circumstances.

CFL Lawyers Are Trained As Mediators

  1. The lawyers in a CFL matter receive extensive and ongoing training in this area. Not every family lawyer has the proper training or qualifications to participate in a CFL file.
    1. This extensive training enables the lawyers to help both parties identify creative solutions to the disputed issues. The lawyers will continue to advocate for their clients during the process, but the advocacy looks very, very different than in any other process. Each lawyer is also a trained mediator, and they work together as a team to help each party identify mutually beneficial goals and interests. The parties effectively have the benefit of two mediators in the room who can also provide legal advice during the discussions.

Other Professionals Trained Specifically To Assist In The CFL Process

  1. Where needed, the CFL process enables the parties to get trained individuals from other professions (such as accountants, financial specialists, mental health experts or parenting specialists) to join the process.
    1. CFL lawyers train to advise on the law, and to help the parties apply the legal principles to the parties’ circumstances. Other professionals (called “Neutrals”) can help with important issues that lie outside the “legal” realm. For example, you may get help from a “Neutral” in a situation where the family finances are extremely complicated, or in a situation where the children have unique needs that require counselling or assessments. There are Neutrals who can act as “divorce coaches” for one or both parties to help them meaningfully participate in the process, and articulate their interests, hopes or concerns. Each Neutral receives similar training to that of the lawyers, in fact, Neutrals and lawyers often attend the training together.

Can Anybody Going Through Separation And Divorce Participate In The CFL Process?

Yes and no. The CFL process is very effective at resolving any dispute that may arise. Some examples include parenting time and decision making, child and spousal support, and division of property.

However, both parties must agree to participate in the process. This means that one party cannot force the other into CFL. Also, both lawyers must be Registered Collaborative Family Law (“RCFL”) lawyers. You will not be able to use the CFL process if one of the lawyers on the file does not have the RCFL designation.

Russel Schmidt at Kahane Law Office in Edmonton is a RCFL lawyer and can help you get started. schedule an initial consultation by contacting Kahane Law Office in Edmonton by email at [email protected] or telephone at 780-571-8463.

How Do I Convince My Partner Or Spouse To Participate In The CFL Process?

This usually depends on how the communication is between the two of you. If you have open communication and some degree of trust, you can suggest the process directly to them and provide them with links to websites that explain how the process works in Alberta:

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/divorce/sd.html; or


Another option is to retain a RCFL lawyer and have your lawyer reach out to your partner or spouse to introduce them to the CFL process.

There is no magic way for you introduce your partner or spouse to the process.

Can We Use The CFL Process Even If We Are Already In The Court Process?

You sure can! Assuming you both retain RCFL lawyers, you can enter into the CFL process at any point. Entering the process, however, means that you are both signing a contract that states there will be no further or ongoing litigation. In addition, you agree that any litigation is at a standstill. The Collaborative Family Law process is designed to address all of the issues on a file. It is not designed to include some issues while the other issues are litigated (resolved at court).

What If I Have Parenting Concerns Regarding My Partner or Spouse?

The CFL process often is the best way to address parenting concerns, as long as there are no urgent safety concerns with the children.

Parenting Neutrals can be extremely effective in these situations. They can conduct specialized assessments of the parents, or the children, and recommend solutions to the issues that they identify. Parenting Neutrals provide the parents with the information that is needed to have informed discussions and make informed decisions.

The lawyers can help the parents decide which steps would be best for the children. These decisions are made in a respectful way during the meetings where both parents are involved in making the decisions.

Does A Parenting Neutral Decide What The Parenting Arrangement Will Be?

No. The Parenting Neutral will offer recommendations and suggestions on helpful next steps. They frequently will join one or more CFL negotiation meetings to answer questions and participate in the discussion about how to address any concerns involving of the children. This is why the CFL process can be extremely valuable in complicated situations involving the children.

How Can We Get A Divorce Judgment If We Have Agreed To Not Involve The Court?

Completing the divorce can be accomplished in the Collaborative Family Law process. While it is true that the actual divorce must go through the Court of King’s Bench, this is an exception to the “no court” rule. This is because it is not considered “litigation”. Divorces that go through the CFL process are typically processed as “joint divorces.” This is because the parties agree on everything they are asking for in the Divorce Judgment.

Get Started Now

If you think CFL might be the best approach for your situation, call Kahane Law Office in Edmonton or Calgary, or email us at Edmonton Office or the Calgary Office. We are more than happy to help you get started right away.