The benefits of an integrated approach in the collaborative process involving a lawyer, family consultant and financial advisor

During any relationship breakdown there are usually 3 key areas the couple will need help with:

- Legal
- Emotional
- Financial

Legal – The Lawyers

The first approach is usually made to a family lawyer for some advice as to their legal rights relating to separation, children and money.  At this stage the couple are usually separated to avoid any conflict of interest and they will speak with separate lawyers. Those initial individual meetings are crucial to the progress of how the separation will proceed, as the majority of our clients will take whatever approach we recommend – that is of course the reason they are seeking legal advice in the first place!

At the first meeting the family lawyer will explain all of the various confusing options with their client, who is unlikely to remember all of the information given, or be able to make an informed and balanced decision about next steps. They are often unable to digest information/advice given by the lawyer due to legal jargon, stress, fear, uncertainty, lack of trust and inability to process information.  The couple are likely to proceed as recommended by their individual lawyers and are unlikely to be able to clearly remember and discuss an approach jointly when they speak again.  Lawyers are rarely both recommending the collaborative approach (or even the same approach) for many reasons.  In the rare event both lawyers recommend the collaborative approach, usually the first meeting is arranged as a 4 way meeting with solicitors and clients and without other professionals.  This is a missed opportunity to ensure the couple have the best possible support and best chance of reaching an agreed outcome.

Emotional – The Family Consultant/Coach

The majority of separating couples seek no help at all with the emotional turmoil they experience and the subsequent fall out.  Separating from a relationship can be akin to a bereavement.  It will often involve difficult decisions regarding children, which must be handled delicately and can be hard to untangle from the parental conflict and emotions.  These decisions are crucial to get right in the early stages to protect children from any emotional and/or physical harm.  For those clients who do seek help with their emotions it will usually be from individual professional counsellors who may already be providing support, but who may not be used to dealing with separating couples. Relationship counsellors will rarely continue assisting a couple once a couple decide to end their relationship.

A Family Consultant/Coach will provide a very different but crucial type of support and will be future focused. They can help clients gain emotional stability, make informed decisions and ensure they are able to give clear instructions to their lawyers.  They can help parents prioritise child arrangements over their own emotional struggles relating to the separation and will assist with communications between the couple and between/with lawyers in collaborative meetings. They can help us as lawyers understand the emotional nuances of each client and what may be preventing them from communicating, discussing or agreeing matters. They can help form bridges of communication, break down information and unblock any impasse. They are without a doubt an underused resource in all areas of family law, but in particular collaborative cases.

Financial – The Financial Advisers

In many cases Financial Advisers are brought in at the end of a case to help implement a financial order or pension sharing order. If there is no pension, they are sometimes considered unnecessary.   However, a financial adviser can give vital help at the outset of the case to help the clients understand their finances, identify what is needed and they can provide invaluable tools such as cash flow forecasting.  Part of a financial adviser’s job is to collate financial information and they can usually do it quicker and more cost effectively than 2 lawyers.  However, they are rarely used in collaborative cases to deal with such tasks as they are not introduced at the start of a collaborative case.

The Financial Adviser can help as a neutral by establishing early whether any PODE/expert reports are needed and if so which experts to use.  They can cost effectively draft neutral letters of instruction  and keep questions relevant and to the point to avoid additional unnecessary costs.  They can give immediate advice in meetings as they are regulated by the FCA to do so, which most lawyers are not.

An integrated approach – The Lawyers, Family Consultant and Financial Adviser

In the majority of my cases I will recommend an integrated, cost effective team approach from the outset for my clients.  In working with likeminded professionals in the Hampshire Family Legal Solutions (HFLS) POD the couple will have an initial foundation meeting with all 3 types of professionals to explore their needs and propose an agreed cost effective way forward.

At the first meeting the couple will first spend 30 minutes each with a Family Consultant separately and then 30 minutes together (subject to their agreement).  They will then spend 30 minutes together with the Financial Adviser.  The couple will have a 30 min break where the 2 lawyers, the Family Consultant and Financial Adviser will discuss the matter and share information (with the consent of the couple) and agree a cost effective and constructive way forward.  The lawyers will then meet with the couple together to discuss a way forward and answer any legal questions they have.  Inevitably following the foundation meeting most couples proceed with the collaborative process and utilise the neutrals fully and effectively throughout that process.

The benefits of the model are relatively obvious but my top 7 include:

  1. Early identification of any emotional or financial issues that may prevent or delay progress of a case or signature of a PA without some preliminary work;
  2. Neutrals involved from the outset to fully support the couple with skills that the lawyers do not have and are often not qualified to provide;
  3. Neutrals dealing with parenting plans/pension and financial advice in separate joint meetings without lawyers where issues are non-legal, reducing the overall costs for the parties;
  4. Family consultants providing emotional support and assisting with communication in meetings, meaning less meetings and therefore less overall costs;
  5. Financial Advisers collating financial information and early identification of reports, valuations and documents needed. Efficiently drafting letters of instruction to PODE/expert avoiding delay, and resulting in less meetings and therefore less overall costs;
  6. Minutes prepared by neutrals allowing lawyers to focus on advice. Minutes produced and circulated in plain English and drafted neutrally at lower cost;
  7. Happier and more confident clients/parents both during and after the whole process who feel supported throughout, producing better outcomes for families and children.