Collaborative Law for Family Well-Being


Collaborative Law for Family Well-Being

“It is time to positively support families at their time of greatest need,
a time of grief and restructuring, by transforming
the family justice system to support family well-being.”1

Collaborative law supports family well-being and is available through the BC Provincial Court Early Resolution process, the BC Collaborative Roster Society’s Pro Bono project, and eight collaborative law practice groups across the province.

Where did collaborative family law come from? Collaborative law began in the 1990s because lawyer Stu Webb was frustrated with the adversarial way families resolved disputes. Since then, research has consistently shown the need for families to reduce intense, prolonged conflict in separation and divorce to avoid harm to children and adults across their lifespan (e.g., CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experience Study).

What are the hallmarks of collaborative family law? The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals says collaborative law:

  1. Empowers family members to resolve their family law issues without going to court;
  2. Takes a multi-disciplined approach with specially trained lawyers, mental health professionals (coaches/child specialists), and financial specialists who educate, guide, and support as needed; and
  3. Intentionally reduces conflict, and its impact on each family member, by creating a safe and dignified environment to problem solve the legal, financial, and human aspects of family disputes.

Parties and professionals must sign a participation agreement that commits them to transparently share information, and work with a specially trained collaborative team in problem solving their dispute with integrity and respect. The professional team can be as small as two lawyers, or as large as a full complement of multi-disciplinary professionals depending on the needs and circumstances of the family, and they distribute the workload so the best expertise available is used efficiently and cost-effectively.

Where does collaborative law fit in consensual dispute resolution? Within the range of out-of-court dispute resolution options, some advantages of collaborative law are:

  1. Children come first: Where children are a client’s priority, consider collaborative law for: a) qualified child specialists whose sole role is to support the children and help parents understand their needs; b) coaches who help clients build skills and develop co-parenting plans as roles shift from spouses to co-parents and relationships are recalibrated; and c) full team commitment to support the best interests of the child, which reduces conflict in favour of constructive problem solving.
  2. Paced rather than a positional pressure cooker: Collaborative law is frequently done in bite-sized pieces. Information sharing often occurs with the parties in team sessions at the same time so transparency, questions, and clarifications occur in real time, and positions or unrealistic expectations are avoided. There is generally no one big event where matters are decided, which can be unlike court, arbitration, or mediation, and this reduces pressure and stress for all.
  3. Durable resolution, not just result: Families are coached by skilled team members as individuals, and as co-parents, to strengthen communication within the process and resolve underlying issues that may otherwise sabotage the effective implementation of a fully completed agreement in the immediate and longer term.

1 Cameron, Nancy, “Transforming the family justice system by focussing on family well-being,” November 23, 2020 Keynote, BC/Yukon Colloquium, Access to Justice BC: |