The Emerging Phenomenon of Collaborative Family Law (CFL): A Qualitative Study of CFL Cases


There is much for policy makers, lawyers and clients of family legal services to be optimistic about in the growth of CFL. Collaborative law offers a chance for separating spouses to negotiate durable, realistic and creative outcomes that they deem fair. It creates a forum for frank dialogue as well as dignified closure. Family lawyers who are embracing CFL regard it as meeting their own need to work in an effective dispute resolution process that has integrity, empowers clients and helps families move through difficult transitions.

There are also many challenges. The CFL movement must be unafraid to reflect on these challenges and humble about how much there still is to learn. In this way, prospective clients and future institutional supporters of CFL can feel confident that the collaborative process will be able to provide excellent results for many family clients.

The challenges for collaborative practice outlined in this report suggest four key values for excellence in CFL. These are commitment (carefully balancing commitment to the process with commitment to one's client and to one's colleagues); transparency (with one's clients about core values, what might go wrong and each step of the process); flexibility and responsiveness (respecting the development of different styles of CFL practice and adjusting one's own practice to client needs as much as possible); and a recognition of the limitations of the CFL model and practice (not every case is suitable for CFL, and not every lawyer has the necessary skills for every potential CFL case). The importance of these four values emerges from the many and varied experiences of lawyers, clients and other collaborative professionals as observed by this three-year study. With careful attention to these core values and continued self-scrutiny and external evaluation, CFL will flourish.