Collaborative Family Law: What Are “Neutrals”?

Collaborative Family Law: What Are “Neutrals”?

Neutral Experts in Family Law

Collaborative Family Law stands out as a progressive and transformative method for resolving family disputes, offering an alternative to the adversarial nature of traditional court battles. This innovative process frequently relies on the expertise of neutral professionals (referred to in the process simply as “Neutrals”) who play a pivotal role in guiding families through the web of divorce, parenting matters, and complex financial intricacies. In this in-depth exploration, we will delve into the multifaceted role of Neutrals in Collaborative Family Law, highlighting their critical contributions to open communication, emotional support, financial guidance, and collaborative problem-solving.

Understanding The Role of Neutrals

The role of Neutrals in Collaborative Family Law is diverse and comprises professionals such as financial experts, and mental health specialists. Their collective expertise contributes to creating a fair and balanced resolution for all parties involved. As we navigate through the various facets of their role, you will see that Neutrals can act as indispensable supports as they help guide families through the complexities the divorce/separation process.

In many Collaborative Family Law matters, the two lawyers are the only professionals that you need for guidance through the process of resolving issues involving your children and the family finances. However, these lawyers recognize that in certain situations the challenges become nuanced or complex enough that the family will benefit from bringing in an individual who has a specialty in a focused area. In these situations, the lawyers will discuss with both parties the options of bringing a Neutral into the process.

While Neutrals are not legal representatives, they provide invaluable information on those issues that the lawyers negotiate. They work closely with the lawyers and help them identify potential routes toward resolution that may be more beneficial than others. Their work enhances the process and results in efficient outcomes in which both sides feel heard and confident that their unique needs and interests have been fully addressed.

Neutrals specialise in one of two broad categories: Mental Health/Coaching and Financial.

Facilitating Communication

Effective communication is the linchpin of Collaborative Family Law, and mental health Neutrals play a pivotal role in ensuring that dialogue is not only open and empathetic but also strategically crafted. Neutrals with an expertise in mental health act as champions of good communication. They do this by creating a secure and open environment for all parties to articulate their concerns, needs, and objectives. They employ active listening skills to ensure that each party feels heard and understood, fostering an atmosphere conducive to constructive dialogue.

Emotional Support

Family disputes are inherently emotionally charged, and the emotional stewardship provided by Neutrals can often be a crucial aspect in a Collaborative Family Law situation. Beyond offering support and guidance, mental health professionals among the Neutrals navigate and manage the emotional landscape.

Their involvement can result in a more efficient process because they are skilled at identifying and resolving those “emotional log-jams” that can lead to an impasse on an issue in dispute, and they can be instrumental in ensuring that each spouse feels heard during the process. They bring a skillset to the process that compliments the lawyers’ legal expertise, and they can inform the lawyers about underlying emotional or mental health challenges so that the lawyers can consider these challenges as they help the couple move toward a resolution. This is a collaboration that typically is available only through the Collaborative Family Law process.

Financial Guidance

Financial matters often take center stage in family disputes, and Neutrals with financial expertise can play a pivotal role in guiding families through these complexities. Beyond traditional financial considerations, financial experts among the Neutrals help families navigate intricate matters such as asset division, spousal support, and child support. They provide valuable insights into financial planning and decision-making, ensuring transparency and equity in the resolution process.

Financial Neutrals can help in situations involving refinancing, mortgages and other debt issues, identifying the tax consequences of dividing certain assets, or in obtaining valuations for assets such as businesses or pensions. Financial Neutrals can demystify financial intricacies and enhance the accessibility of information, empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their financial future.

In many situations, you do not need special financial knowledge as the family finances are straightforward. In other situations, however, the lawyers will identify more complicated issues. These challenges can rise to a level of complexity that requires specialised knowledge to generate options for division of family assets and debts.

Their expertise can help the couple identify options that were previously unknown, or help the parties navigate around potential pitfalls such as avoidable tax consequences.

Facilitating Solutions

Collaborative problem-solving is a hallmark of Collaborative Family Law, and Neutrals excel in guiding parties through this creative exploration of solutions. By encouraging the brainstorming of various options, Neutrals ensure that families can tailor agreements that meet their unique needs and circumstances. This problem-solving approach can be extremely effective within the family dynamic.

Neutrals encourage parties to think creatively and explore unique solutions, fostering a sense of empowerment and ownership over the resolution process. By showcasing the flexibility and adaptability of Collaborative Family Law, Neutrals enhance the appeal of this approach to individuals seeking alternatives to traditional litigation.

As you might expect from the name, Neutrals are impartial in the Collaborative Family Law process. This is true even if they are a mental health professional or Divorce Coach working primarily with one of the spouses. Neutrals and Collaborative Family Law lawyers are required to undergo much of the same initial and ongoing training in order to work in the Collaborative Family Law process. This means that, in addition to their professional skillset, they are trained mediators or trained in interest-based negotiation.

Paying For Neutrals

Couples going through divorce and separation often recognize that a Neutral will bring value to the process, but they worry about the cost of paying for a Neutral in addition to their legal fees.

The cost is always something to consider, but it is also important to keep in mind that a Neutral’s work usually speeds up the resolution process by identifying and addressing important emotional or mental health issues that often impede progress, or by identifying and overcoming financial hurdles in a way that provides significant financial benefits to both parties. Further, the costs for the Neutral’s work may be completely or partially covered by employer-provided health benefits plans.

In addition to these considerations, it is important to consider that the cost of bringing in financial specialists tends to increase in courtroom litigation. With the Collaborative Family Law process, the financial Neutral is not aligned with one spouse over the other. In litigation, each spouse usually has to retain their own financial specialist which essentially doubles the cost of the financial expertise needed to reach a resolution.

Timing Of Their Involvement

There are no rules about when a Neutral needs to become involved in the Collaborative Family Law process. At the first CFL meeting, the Lawyers will identify the option of bringing in a Neutral but you do not need to make the actual decision right away.

Sometimes the need for a Neutral will be apparent from the start of the process. This happens in situations where the Family Property includes business assets, or in situations where the Lawyers anticipate complex tax issues with the division of other property.

In other situations the benefit of a Neutral will only become apparent partway through the process. This can happen in situations where, for example, one of the children is experiencing significant emotional or mental health challenges related to the divorce or separation process.

Each family has a different dynamic, but the lawyers have the training to identify situations where a Neutral may benefit the collaborative process by helping in complex financial, emotional or mental health situations.

We Can Help!

Collaborative Family Law is not just about resolving family disputes; it is about creating a path forward that is fair, equitable, and mutually agreed upon. Neutrals play a pivotal role in this transformative process, bringing not only their professional expertise but also a keen understanding of the complexities involved in family dynamics.

In doing so, Neutrals empower families to navigate challenging times and position Collaborative Family Law as an accessible alternative for those seeking resolution. Through their commitment to open communication, emotional support, financial transparency, collaborative problem-solving, and legal insights, neutrals often are essential in the pursuit of a more collaborative and constructive approach to family dispute resolution. For more information or questions, please reach out to us at 403-225-8810 for the Calgary Office or (780) 571-8463 for the Edmonton Office.