Collaborative Law Practice – Coming to More Ontario Law Firms Near You
As the name of my firm says, here at Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers we practice what is known as “Collaborative Family Law”, which is a voluntary, contract-based Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process for those seeking to negotiate a resolution of their Family Law dispute, rather than having one imposed on them by a court or an arbitrator. In many ways, it’s similar to mediation, except that it usually does not involve the participation of a neutral third party to help the couple reach a resolution.
Although use of the Collaborative Law process is perhaps not as widespread in Ontario as in other North American jurisdictions, the release on October 27, 2016 of the Ontario Collaborative Law Federation’s “Draft Accreditation Standards” paves the way for an even broader presence in the province. These Accreditation Standards aim to bring consistency, professionalism and heightened standards of competence to practitioners of Collaborative Law (like my firm).
The Ontario Collaborative Law Federation currently represents 18 groups of specially-trained professionals across the province, and imposes rigorous standards for membership. (For example, in the case of Collaborative Legal Professionals, it requires the completion of at least 40 hours of collaborative training, including interest-based negotiation skills training and Collaborative Family Law skills training).
Moreover, all Collaborative lawyers are already licensed and regulated members of the legal profession, and in their role as advocates for their clients, are already duty-bound to adhere to certain professional standards imposed by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
But once approved, the Draft Accreditation Standards will provide an additional layer of obligation and competence for all professionals who participate in the Collaborative Law process.
Accreditation is voluntary, but those who will choose to obtain this designation will have to adhere to the Accreditation Standards’ mandatory requirements (once they are approved); however, those who opt not to apply for accreditation are not prohibited from engaging in Collaborative Law provided they adhere to the same requirements.
In other words, once they are in final form, the Accreditation Standards will effectively govern both those who choose to seek accreditation, and those who do not.
This will be a welcome addition to the Collaborative Law field, and by extension a good development for Family Law litigants in Ontario. In the U.S., since the year 2010 there is already a Uniform Collaborative Law Rules and Act, which among other things standardizes the most important features of Collaborative Law participation agreements between the parties, and requires Collaborative lawyers to take certain steps and make certain inquiries of their clients.
In Canada, the use of Collaborative Law has perhaps been somewhat piecemeal in nature, but it’s growing. The Alberta Family Law Act (in section 5), the British Columbia Family Law Act (in section 8), and Saskatchewan Family Property Act (in section 44.1), each require lawyers who act on behalf of a spouse to inform him or her of the Collaborative Law service that might help resolve their matters. The legislative counterpart in Ontario (i.e. the Family Law Act) does not contain such a requirement, but it’s likely on the horizon soon.