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Collaborative family law is an alternative to adversarial courts

Collaborative family law is a viable alternative for divorcing couples who want to avoid court, says Calgary and Vancouver family lawyer Marcus Sixta.

“We think alternative approaches provide good service to the client,” says Sixta, the founder of Crossroads Law.

He describes the collaborative divorce approach as one where both parties secure a lawyer and sign a participation agreement to reach a solution collaboratively using mediation. The agreement binds the parties to the process and disqualifies their lawyers from the right to represent either if their separation or divorce goes to court.

“The agreement says that if either party decides to go the court, both lawyers are fired. So it provides an incentive to keep it out of court and in mediation,” he tells

“The consequence for breaking that agreement is that they will fire their lawyers — everybody loses their lawyer and everybody will have to get new counsel, and the parties will have to absorb all the resulting costs,” Sixta says.

That helps ensure the matter is resolved outside of court.

“If it doesn’t work, you’re going to lose time, you’re going to lose money, and you’re going to have to start from scratch with a new lawyer. You’re going to have to start that relationship again,” he says.

“As a result of a mediated settlement, parties are usually more satisfied than they would be with a court decision because in meditation you’re able to obtain a result that may be more creative and better meets the interests of the parties,” Sixta says.

The process begins with finding the right lawyer who has collaborative training as well as experience in mediation, which is part of the collaborative approach, he says.

This process offers room for creativity and coming up with solutions that courts simply aren’t capable of finding, Sixta says.

He explains collaborative divorce lawyers believe in alternative dispute resolution and are committed to resolving issues out of court, which is adversarial and expensive. The court system is also overwhelmed and prone to lengthy delays, Sixta adds.

By working together, the divorcing parties can retain a degree of control and avoid the uncertain outcome that a judge may impose in litigation, he says.

Sixta says there are many situations where mediation is the preferred route over a court process, which can include cases with high conflict.

“Frankly, in many situations, the court is probably not the best place to resolve family law disputes. And we encourage clients to try mediation before they take anything to court,” he says.

“Collaborative divorce is a way of ensuring you’re getting a lawyer who knows what they’re doing during meditation while ensuring there’s something holding the parties to that mediation process and creating a deal that everyone can live with,” Sixta says.

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