Click on the questions to learn more about the Collaborative Family Law Process.

1What is Collaborative Family Law?

"Collaborative Family Law" (CFL) is an innovative way to help families who are in the midst of separation and need professional assistance to settle the issues. A commitment is made in a CFL negotiation that:

  • negotiations will be principled, dignified and respectful;
  • issues will be resolved without going to court or threatening court action;
  • both sides will exchange all important information;
  • you and your spouse will be assisted in exploring as many options for settlement as possible; and
  • the collaborative team professionals will help the parties to reach an agreement that best meets their goals and priorities.
2What types of family law issues can be resolved using the CFL process?
Most family law issues can benefit from the CFL process including issues concerning child custody and visitation; spousal and child support; property and the family home and changes to existing arrangements.
3What is the Collaborative Family Law Participation Agreement?
The CFL "Participation Agreement" is a contract signed by the parties and your team professionals committing to work out an agreement without going to court. If it turns out that court is necessary because the dispute between you and your spouse cannot be resolved in a CFL negotiation, all team professionals must resign from the case and neither they , nor any members of their respective firms and organizations may represent you in subsequent litigation. Your legal professional will assist in transferring your file to your new lawyers.
4How does a CFL negotiation work?
CFL negotiations take place at meetings with both you, your spouse, your legal professionals (and other team professionals as may be necessary) present. The legal professionals facilitate constructive communication and negotiation. They help keep the discussions between the you and your spouse focused on the problems that you and your spouse are trying to work out and help to find creative solutions. In a CFL negotiation, you and your spouse are empowered to reach decisions that will work best you and your family. The legal professionals will provide legal advice and generate options for resolution. They will also assist you and your spouse to improve your listening, communication and negotiating skills.

In a CFL negotiation, both you and your spouse must make full, honest disclosure of finances and other important facts that are necessary to make informed decisions.

If there are issues concerning children, you, your spouse and team professionals commit to finding solutions that meet the best interests of the children.

In a CFL negotiation, all of the participants commit to treat one another with politeness and respect. Although each legal professionals still advises and represents his or her own client, the legal professionals work as a team with you and your spouse to provide options and choices for an agreement.
5What if my spouse does not make the disclosure he/she promises in the Participation Agreement?
If you or your spouse refuse to make proper disclosure, the collaborative process may end prematurely. This provides very strong incentive to both you and your spouse to honour your promises.
6My spouse and I do not communicate at all. How can we use this process if we can't talk to each other?
It is fairly typical for separated spouses to have communication problems. The CFL legal professionals will assist you and your spouse individually about ways to communicate with each other. The legal professionals (and other team professionals as may be necessary) will also be present during the negotiations to help through the rough spots and to defuse conflict and avoid destructive communication.
7What if we need help to decide certain issues?
It may be necessary to involve additional team professionals, including family and financial professionals, to assist either person. Input about the children's needs may be sought from a therapist. Accountants may be asked for income tax advice. Before any outside assistance is obtained both parties must agree on the selection and payment arrangements for the outside professional. Any expert whose services are used will not be allowed to assist either person if the matter does go to court in the future, unless agreed by both parties.
8Can all lawyers be CFL lawyers?
Waterloo Region and Wellington County have many excellent, experienced legal professionals who have undertaken and completed training in Collaborative Family Law. Members of our Collaborative Family Law Association have taken upgraded their skills through courses and seminars. If you and your spouse are interested in CFL, ask your lawyer about CFL or contact one of the members of the Waterloo Region CFL Group for a referral to a trained CFL lawyer.
9How does CFL differ from mediation?
A mediator is a neutral person who assists the parties to work out a settlement. The mediator does not act for either party and does not provide legal advice. In a typical family law mediation, the clients attend mediation without their lawyers. Lawyers for each of the parties provide independent legal advice regarding any proposed agreements. In a CFL negotiation, each of the parties has their own legal professionals present. Each legal professionals will ensure you and your spouse are provided with legal advice about the issues. The legal professionals work as a team to guide the parties to the best settlement possible.
10How does a CFL negotiation differ from the traditional family law negotiation process?
  • In CFL negotiation, both you, your spouse and team professionals commit to resolving the dispute without going to court or threatening to go to court. In a traditional family law negotiation, court may be used as an ongoing threat or bargaining tool.
  • In CFL negotiation, the parties explore options for resolution which include the legal model as well as other options. In a traditional negotiation, typically only the legal model is considered.
  • In a CFL negotiation, the legal professionals work as a team with you and your spouse to develop an agreement that that best meets the goals of the family. In a traditional negotiation each lawyer advocates solutions that best meet their client's goals.
  • In a CFL negotiation, you and your spouse negotiate directly with one another and take responsibility for resolving the issues yourselves, with your team professionals. In a traditional negotiation, it is the lawyers who maintain control of the process and the negotiation. This is done mostly by correspondence instead of face to face meetings and is often repetitive, expensive and acrimonious.
11What if final settlement is not reached using the CFL process?
There is no guarantee that the CFL process will resolve every issue, although with a commitment to the process, most CFL negotiations should be successful. If you or your spouse decides that you do not want to continue with CFL, then all team professionals must resign from the case and neither they, nor any members of their respective firms and organization may represent you in subsequent litigation. Your legal professionals will assist in transferring the file to your new lawyers.
12Can one of the parties withdraw from the CFL process at any time?
The CFL process is voluntary and either you or your spouse may withdraw at any time. There may also be circumstances when one of the legal professionals must resign, for example, if it is discovered that a client is hiding important information during the process.
13How much does a CFL negotiation cost?
You and your spouse will be individually responsible for paying the fees of your own legal professional. In addition, (with your consent), it may be necessary to hire appraisers or valuators to value certain of the assets. These valuations will also have a cost. The expense of a CFL negotiation will vary depending on the complexity of the issues and the time needed to resolve them. Typically, the process will cost less than going to court, or traditional family law negotiation. Each of the parties to the CFL negotiation will have to discuss fees with his or her individual legal professional.
14What to Do After You Decide Collaborative Law is the Right Process for You?
Once you have decided that a CFL negotiation may be the right process for you, you should discuss this option with your spouse. A CFL negotiation can only take place if both parties agree. If your spouse agrees to consider a CFL negotiation, speak to your respective lawyers about the process or contact one of the members of the Waterloo Region CFL Group listed on our members.html page.
15Why should I choose Collaborative Family Law?
By choosing CFL, you ensure that the arrangement reached between you and your spouse will be designed by you, with the guidance and legal advice of your CFL legal professionals. You will be able to achieve a settlement in as dignified, respectful, creative and cost effective manner as possible.

CFL provides an opportunity for you to maintain the integrity of your family even though you do not wish to remain spouses.

Separation & Divorce: Collaborative vs. Litigation

  Collaborative Litigation
Degree of Adversity You and your spouse pledge mutual respect and openness Court process is based on an adversarial system and is very acrimonious
Cost Costs are manageable, usually less expensive than litigation; team model is financially efficient in use of experts Costs are unpredictable and can include court
Timetable You and your spouse create the timetable Litigation process sets the timetable; dates are set with little flexibility; often delays given crowded Courts
Use of Outside Experts In addition to team professionals, jointly retained specialists provide information and guidance helping you and your spouse develop informed, mutually beneficial solutions Separate experts are hired to support the litigants’ positions, often at great expense to each
Involvement of Lawyers Your legal professionals work toward a mutually created settlement Lawyers fight to win, but someone loses - often the children
Privacy The process, discussion and negotiation details are kept private Dispute becomes a matter of public record and, sometimes, media attention
Facilitation of Communication Team of Collaborative Practice specialists educate and assist you and your spouse on how to effectively communicate with each other No process designed to facilitate communication; Adversarial nature often destroys communication between the parties.
Voluntary vs. mandatory Voluntary Mandatory
Lines of Communication You and your spouse communicate directly with the assistance of members of your team You and your spouse negotiate through your lawyers
Court Involvement Outside court Court-based