What happens at the first Collaborative Family Law meeting?
If you and your spouse agree to engaging in the collaborative family law process, the first step will be a four-way meeting with you, your spouse, and your lawyers. This can be a daunting prospect for many people. One of the best ways to prepare for your first collaborative family law meeting is being aware of what will happen. In Ottawa, we generally cover the following:
1. You will review and sign a “Collaborative Law Participation Agreement”. The most important part of the Participation Agreement is the agreement not to go to court, or even threaten to go to court. If you go to court, you each have to hire new lawyers. You can see an example of a Participation Agreement here.
2. You will also review and sign any other Professionals’ Agreement(s). You may at this point have already agreed to hire a family relations expert, financial planner, or other professional.
3. You will review Process Guidelines or “Expectations of Conduct”. These are the ground rules for the process, including communication. You can find examples of communication guidelines here.
4. You will begin to identify your goals, interests and concerns. Your lawyers will provide you with guidance as you learn to negotiate using "interest based" discussions instead of "position based". An example of a "position" is "You cannot introduce the kids to new partners until I say it is okay." In contrast, a "goal" or "interest" would be "I want to make sure new adults are not introduced into the lives of the children until they are ready."
This list of common goals and interests in divorce cases may help you understand the distinction between interests or goals from positions, and to help you think about your own goals.
5. You will discuss any pressing concerns/issues that require immediate attention, including participants’ expectations of each other until next joint meeting. There may be an event in the near future that needs to be discussed (e.g. a child's graduation, and deciding who may attend and how the parties will behave at the event).
6. You will make a plan for gathering information, including preparation of income and expense statements and inventories. You will discuss what information and documents are required, who will get them, who will cover the cost, and timelines for exchanging the information.
7. You will explore the possible engagement of other neutral professionals/experts. Depending on your situation, different professionals may be helpful.
8. You will schedule future meetings. Scheduling the meetings while everyone is together, and scheduling more than one at a time, ensures the process stays on track. You will discuss what you would like to see on the agenda for the next meeting.
After the first meeting, the process is largely in the control of the parties. Each case will have different issues, and each person will have different priorities. Going through a standard agenda in the first meeting helps everyone understand the process and begin gathering the information that is needed. From there, the agenda for each meeting will depend on you and your spouse.