Collaborative settlement reduces negative impact on children

By Staff

Parents who are divorcing can seek a meaningful settlement through alternatives to the adversarial court system and reduce the stress on family members, including children, says Toronto family lawyer Elinor Shinehoft.

There is an overwhelming body of evidence illustrating the harmful impact that a contentious separation can have on children and their health, she tells

A recent study found an ugly divorce could affect children for years, even into adulthood, Huffington Post reports.

“What we see happening in many contentious family law cases is that children tend to get caught in the middle of disputes,” says Shinehoft, principal of Shinehoft Law. “The parents are sometimes so blinded by either anger or revenge or greed that they don’t take into account what’s best for their children.

“That’s why legislatively it states 'what’s in the best interest of the children' — that’s the primary issue that the court is interested in.”

A collaborative setting uses supports to achieve a reasonable agreement between two people who are splitting, Shinehoft says.

While each party is still represented by their own lawyer, other professionals — financial advisors and social workers for example — often play an integral role in the process.

“In a collaborative setting, for instance, the focus is to bring the parties together to deal with their issues and come up with a separation agreement in a much more respectful manner,” she says. “You’re in a more open environment where people are sharing information so we can end up getting a comprehensive understanding of your situation.”

That goes a long way to creating a better separation agreement where everybody’s going to be happier and the concerns of those involved are going to be dealt with, she says. Shinehoft contrasts that to the court system where a definitive decision is handed down by a judge, often to the chagrin of at least one of the parties.

The family professional, often a social worker, is trained in collaborative law and can help couples tackle the tough issues. Shinehoft points out that they are neutral — they don’t represent either party — and therefore aren’t there to provide counselling or therapy.

Through their experience and training, they can help the parents come up with an equitable plan that will benefit the children and minimize their stress.

Emotions often run high following a breakup, making issues such as developing a shared parenting plan contentious, Shinehoft says.

“These are not issues we’re trained in as lawyers and they intrude on our ability to deal with the legal issues so we will recommend a family professional to help them work it out,” she says.

Not only does their professional background provide them with the training and experience to handle those situations, but it also better equips them to help couples come to a consensus about the decisions they must make.

And they can often help resolve those issues more quickly and at a lower cost than the lawyer, Shinehoft adds.

“They may even raise issues the parents haven’t thought of,” she says. “If people are open to trying to negotiate, I don’t really see how collaboration can’t be an option.”

Shinehoft says as long as there is a willingness for parents to negotiate out of court, there’s a chance they can settle collaboratively.

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