collaborative divorce

This article is written by Rajan Chettiar (an affiliate of PracticeForte Advisory) and was first published the Asian Journal on Mediation.

This article explores the use of collaborative practice as opposed to litigation to help divorcing couples to reach an out of court settlement. It discusses how a collaborative divorce would work and the roles of the people involved in the process. The article then makes a comparison between collaborative practice, mediation, and litigation in the context of divorce proceedings. By assessing the advantages and disadvantages of a collaborative divorce, this article makes a case for collaborative divorces. The article then examines the experiences of the US, Canada, Australia, and Hong Kong and discusses how collaborative practice can be further promoted in Singapore. The article concludes that collaborative practice is the way forward to achieve the therapeutic and restorative components of family justice and to create a less-litigious society.

 

Rajan CHETTIAR*

Barrister-at-law (England and Wales), Advocate and Solicitor (Singapore);

Associate Mediator and Accredited Family Mediator, Singapore Mediation Centre;

Collaborative Family Lawyer; Member, Board, International Academy of Collaborative Professionals

  1. Introduction

 1          Family is one of the foundational blocks of society. Almost every one dreams of getting married and having the perfect family. However, sometimes the marriage breaks down. Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful and emotional events people can encounter.[1] When emotions run high, the tendency is to want to make the other person suffer as much as one has suffered. This tendency lends itself to creating an acrimonious and litigious environment in divorce proceedings most acutely shown on television and in the movies. Scenes of couples siphoning away assets and using their children as bargaining chips abound, along with scenes depicting divorce lawyers acting as gladiators fighting for their clients, often without regard to the long-term effects of divorce. Divorce affects all of us and the ones who end up suffering the most are the children. Scars left behind from witnessing warring parents are long-lasting. Many develop emotional and behavioural issues that continue into adulthood.[2] These issues not only affect the individual suffering from them but inevitably affect those around them and ultimately society as a whole.[3]

2          The family justice system has a key role to play in shaping how couples handle divorce. There has been increased recognition that the family justice system should understand the parties involved and consider their interests, as well as those of their children.[4] The traditional adversarial approach to divorces contributes to animosity, thereby worsening conflict, and often falls short in achieving therapeutic and restorative components of family justice.[5] An alternative needs to be utilised and one of the best ways to do this is through collaborative practice (“CP”). CP aims to reduce the emotional, mental and economic strain of a litigated divorce and allows couples to arrive at a settlement on their divorce collaboratively.[6] It recognises that divorce is not just about the legal rights of the parties but also about their short‑term and long-term needs. CP allows couples to arrive at solutions that recognise and satisfy those needs. Introduced by American lawyer Stu Webb in 1990, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“IACP”) now has more than 2,500 members in over 25 countries.[7] In Singapore, CP is known as “collaborative family practice” (“CFP”). CFP was introduced in Singapore in 2013 and is run by the Singapore Mediation Centre (“SMC”).[8] In 2015, it was reported that only seven couples chose to use CFP.[9] Six years later, the number of CFP cases has increased; anecdotally, there have only been approximately 20 cases in total, so far. Since CP was introduced, there are now 54 lawyers and three mental health professionals under the SMC’s panel of collaborative professionals.[10] Around the world, the increase in popularity of CP is encouraging. This article seeks to show why the CFP scene in Singapore has so much more potential and explores how CFP in Singapore can be taken to new heights.


  1. What is collaborative practice and how does it work?

 3          CP is meant to keep divorcing couples out of court. It is a process where parties and their lawyers agree to handle the divorce collaboratively through interest-based negotiation rather than litigation.[11] The CP process typically begins where one party consults a CP-trained lawyer who then sends a proposal to the other party to commence the CP process.[12] In Singapore, the CP process can also be initiated by sending in a request to the SMC.[13] Everyone who is involved has to sign a participation agreement stating that they will engage in negotiations in good faith, will provide full and frank disclosure, will not litigate or threaten litigation during the process, and that professionals involved will be barred from continuing to act should the CP process fail.[14]

 4          During CP negotiations, parties identify their interests and are given the chance to explain their needs.[15] Parties are also able to discuss non-legal issues in relation to the divorce,[16] such as how parties are going to break the news to their children. Ultimately, the aim is to arrive at a settlement with an understanding of the other’s perspective. CP thus allows couples to focus on their and their family’s needs and gives them the flexibility to decide what is best for them.[17] Further, discussions during the CP process are privileged, save where there is a threat of criminal conduct, allowing parties to negotiate without fear that matters disclosed will be used against them.[18]

5          Overall, CP aims to reduce the high conflict that is usually associated with divorce litigation, thereby setting the stage for co-operation in future.[19]

 

  1. Who are the professionals involved and what are their roles?

 6          With CP, parties have control over the professionals they want to involve in the process. While lawyers are involved by default, parties have the option of including neutral financial professionals and mental health professionals amongst others.[20] The only condition is that the professionals involved have to be trained in the collaborative process.

7          In collaborative divorces, lawyers do not act as adversaries. Instead, they put on a different hat and work together to help resolve issues relating to the divorce.[21] A survey conducted by the IACP over a period of four years revealed that apart from advising on process and the relevant law, lawyers involved in the CP process helped parties feel safe during negotiations, which in turn encouraged settlement.[22] Lawyers also “facilitated creative problem-solving” as well as “empowered client(s) to actively participate” and “find their voice”.[23]

8          Neutral financial professionals assist couples by helping gather relevant financial information to create a clear picture of the family’s current financial situation and future financial needs.[24] Parties can then formulate the appropriate plans in relation to the division of assets and payment of maintenance with the benefit of this clearer picture.[25]

9          Mental health professionals play key roles in a collaborative divorce by providing crucial emotional support to the parties. They help parties navigate their new roles as former spouses and express their individual needs and concerns in a healthy way.[26] A child specialist helps parties tailor parenting plans to serve the children’s best interests and acts as the children’s “voice” during the process. He or she may also be part of the team of mental health professionals.[27]

 

III.       Collaborative practice versus mediation versus litigation

 10        The most distinctive difference between CP, mediation and litigation is the context in which they take place. With mediation and litigation, parties have already entered the court’s domain; divorce papers are already filed and parties are aware of the allegations and claims made against them.[28] On the flipside, collaborative divorces occur before any divorce papers are presented in court.[29] In a mediation, parties can still easily revert to litigation if they think that mediation is not going in their favour and they are not willing to compromise.[30] With the participation agreement that couples undergoing a collaborative divorce sign, couples and their lawyers cannot make the decision to back out and proceed with divorce litigation without consequences, given that the lawyers can no longer continue to represent their clients.[31]

11        Other notable differences between CP, mediation and litigation are the level of adversity involved, whether it is interest-based or rights-based, and the level of control over the process and outcome. Litigation is naturally adversarial, with both sides advocating for a ruling in their favour.[32] The focus is on what each party is entitled to under the law. While mediation is less adversarial than litigation since it involves a neutral third party who facilitates negotiations between parties,[33] lawyers still act as their clients’ advocates seeking to obtain an outcome most favourable to their client.[34] Sometimes, this outcome is at the expense of the other party or the children. The focus of mediation is also rights-based, taking into consideration what parties would potentially receive if they had proceeded with litigation.[35] CP, however, as discussed above, is interest-based.[36] Parties focus on and are guided by their needs and interests while working collaboratively towards settlement of their divorce. Furthermore, given the facilitative role of lawyers in a collaborative divorce, adversity between the parties is removed.

12        Parties have a greater level of control over the process and outcome in a collaborative divorce compared to litigation. In traditional divorce litigation, parties have no say over the process and are subject to the procedures required by law and court timelines. Even with mediation, the process is facilitated by the mediator and parties are usually not able to discuss matters that are irrelevant to the legal issues that are the subject of the mediation. In a collaborative divorce, however, parties decide when they want to hold CP meetings and decide what they would like to discuss during those meetings.[37] The outcomes in a collaborative divorce are, therefore, entirely in the hands of the couple, whereas [in litigation], the decision lies with the judge.

 

  1. Why collaborative practice is the way forward

13        The 2016 Global Pound Conference revealed key concerns and priorities of users of dispute resolution. These include the desire for certainty and control over the outcome,[38] the desire for relationship-focused outcomes that preserve and enhance relationships,[39] wanting to handle conflict before involving the courts[40] and financial concerns of wanting to save time and costs.[41] As will be discussed below,[42] CP provides the opportunity to address these needs and concerns.

 

  1. Advantages

14        The advantages of CP are numerous. Most significantly, the singular fact that parties control the process produces numerous benefits. Couples determine the date, duration and the agenda for each meeting.[43] They are thus able to discuss non-legal issues such as how the divorce has affected them emotionally, who the family pet shall reside with, or when and how the children should be introduced to either parent’s new girlfriend or boyfriend. In one case, the wife raised her desire for funding so she could return to school and obtain a better-paying job. Subsequent discussions with the husband revealed that he was supportive of the idea as she would be working towards enhancing her future earning capacity.[44] Such discussion would not have been possible in litigation or mediation, given how those processes are about the legal rights of the parties rather than their needs. Furthermore, the flexibility in a collaborative divorce affords couples the space to come up with creative solutions to their problems, – whether legal, financial or emotional.[45] The ability to decide on timelines also means that the pressure to resolve issues within a one-day mediation, for example, is removed and couples are not forced to make decisions they may later regret. When couples have control over both the process and the outcome, they feel empowered and have a sense of ownership.[46] Years down the line, they are able to look back and appreciate how and why they agreed on certain things. In knowing that the collaborative process took their needs into consideration, they tend to be more at peace with the decisions they made and understand that they would make those choices again.[47] This is in stark contrast to litigation where the decision of the judge often results in one or both parties thinking that the decision was unfair.[48] An agreement that both parties came to of their own accord is less likely to result in subsequent default than a decision that was imposed on both of them, often without either party having much say in the matter.[49] After all, in such a personal matter like divorce, couples are often the ones who understand their situation and their needs best and, in turn, want to have an input in something that will change their lives forever.[50] Additionally, having control will allow parties to feel satisfied with the process and outcome, thereby helping parties move on faster.[51] The ability to consider and focus on needs in addition to rights thus results in sustainable, future-focused solutions that may not be possible with mediation or litigation.

15        Due to the nature of the collaborative divorce process, there is also less confrontation and less conflict. Feelings of anger or wanting to take revenge are often worsened by the adversarial nature of divorce litigation.[52] Down the road, couples having been affected by the acrimony of divorce litigation cannot communicate effectively and end up returning to court multiple times to resolve their problems.[53] In contrast, CP encourages couples to co-operate and communicate with each other with respect.[54] In addition, CP minimises the posturing and gamesmanship often associated with negotiations between lawyers.[55] CP also alleviates the propensity for parties and their lawyers to open with unrealistically high or low offers.[56] The shift from a win/lose mentality typical of litigation to a win/win mentality in a collaborative divorce sets the stage for couples for cordiality and co-parenting in future. The children will then benefit from having parents who can co-parent despite no longer being together.[57] The children also end up spending more time with both parents, allowing them to nurture healthy relationships with each.[58]

16        The confidentiality afforded by the process promotes amicable settlement by alleviating fears that one’s dirty laundry will be aired in public.[59] Furthermore, the fact that discussions are privileged allows parties to be more open and frank without fear that something revealed in the course of the collaborative process will be used against them in future,[60] especially during cross-examination in a divorce trial.

17        Another advantage of CP is that it takes place before parties enter the door of the courts. Seeds of acrimony are already planted when one party files for divorce;[61] allegations often blaming the other for being the cause of the marriage breakdown have been laid.[62] It thus becomes very difficult for parties to back down from such provocation, and they would not be in the right headspace to mediate.[63]

18        Practically, collaborative divorces can allow couples to reduce time and costs spent on their divorce. Having mental health professionals involved in the process allows emotional issues to be handled at the outset before these emotions spiral out of control and compromise the couple’s ability to negotiate and work collaboratively.[64] Additionally, collaborative divorces do not have the same costs associated with preparing and filing divorce papers or with preparing and going for trial. The cost of having to hire a neutral mediator is also saved.[65] These savings can be redirected to paying for mental health professionals or neutral financial professionals if parties choose to engage them, or towards their own needs. Aside from savings, the potential for lower costs also creates an incentive for couples to negotiate and settle in a timely manner.[66]

19        In the public sphere, settlements coming out of the collaborative divorce process help reduce the workload of courts simply because there are less disputes to resolve.[67] Courts can then spend more time on more complex and novel cases.

20        CP also proves useful in other areas of law, especially where preservation of relationships, confidentiality and win/win solutions are key. For instance, in business, where relationships with other businesses or clients are vital to a business’ success, CP would help preserve relations such that they can continue working together in future.[68] In the same vein, CP can also be used for shareholder disputes and partnership disputes.[69] With employment law, employment disputes can get emotional and result in long-drawn, costly litigation.[70] Publicity associated with employment disputes can also prove detrimental to both parties. Another area of law where parties can benefit from CP is in wills and estates. Parties to wills and estates disputes are often family members and litigation often aggravates fighting between the family members, whereas CP can help improve, if not maintain, their relationships.[71] The confidentiality afforded by CP also ensures that family disputes stay private.

 

  1. Disadvantages

21        Despite the boons of going through a collaborative divorce, it must be noted that CP is not suitable for every couple. CP is not appropriate where there is domestic violence, mental health issues or where there is a drastic power imbalance.[72]

22        Though there are downsides to CP, most of these disadvantages are not impossible to overcome. As discussed above, a key feature of CP is the disqualification of lawyers from continuing to act for their clients should the collaborative divorce process fail. Parties then have to spend time and incur more expense briefing new lawyers.[73] As a result, parties may feel like their time was wasted trying to settle their divorce collaboratively.[74] It should be noted, however, that there are also costs associated with negotiations between lawyers, and with mediation. Often, there is also no guarantee that these processes will result in settlement. In addition, the disqualification of lawyers acts as motivation for parties to remain at the negotiation table and generate solutions.[75] Negotiations are not always smooth sailing. The disqualification thus disincentivises parties and their lawyers from giving up easily due to the time, effort and money already expended in the process.[76]

23        A common criticism of CP is that the involvement of other professionals adds to costs. However, the presence of other professionals who are trained to handle the mental, emotional or financial aspects of divorce help nip problems in the bud before they get out of hand and derail negotiations.[77] Anecdotally, experience in the US has also demonstrated that collaborative divorces are multiple times cheaper than traditional divorce litigation.[78]

24        The fact that parties control the CP process may also become a disadvantage. Parties may choose to unduly delay the process in order to make it unaffordable for the other party.[79] One party might also decide not to provide full and frank disclosure.[80] Ultimately, the success of a collaborative divorce hinges on the parties’ commitment to the process. The participation agreement is therefore key to alleviating some of these risks. The participation agreement could provide for penalties in the event of undue delay.[81] Furthermore, misuse of the collaborative process has cost consequences for both parties, thus acting to discourage such abuse.[82]

25        A final common complaint from opponents of CP is that CP is less lucrative for lawyers than litigation. While this may be true to some extent, lawyers may find that it is easier for them to get paid for their billable hours because their clients are satisfied with the process and the outcome.[83] Additionally, the fact that disputes can be resolved more efficiently means that lawyers can handle more cases, which would help compensate for the decreased earnings from litigation.[84]

 

  1. Looking overseas

26        CP now has presence in countries in Europe, America and Asia. In the US, there are now approximately 271 CP groups; in Canada, there are 37 CP groups; in Australia, there are 16 CP groups; in Hong Kong, there is one CP group.[85] Each of these aforementioned jurisdictions have had varying levels of success with CP. This article will briefly examine each jurisdiction in turn.

 

  1. US

27        CP has enjoyed runaway success in the US as seen from the number of CP groups in the country spanning more than half the states in the US.[86] Here, the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (“UCLA”) was enacted with the aim of protecting users of the CP process and to encourage use of collaborative law by standardising CP participation agreements.[87] To date, the UCLA has been adopted by 19 states in the country.[88]

28        One collaborative lawyer’s experience in Florida, where the Florida legislature has acknowledged the ability of the collaborative process to protect relationships and reduce the emotional and financial cost of litigation, is heartening.[89] For this lawyer, CP has solved his grievances in relation to the inordinate time spent in court, dealing with court schedules, unprofessional behaviour of other lawyers, and the difficulty of getting clients to pay. He also professed to feeling more fulfilled in the work he does and to using his counselling skills to value-add to his work.[90]

 

  1. Canada

29        CP in Canada has similarly enjoyed success. For example, in the city of Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, CP was introduced in 1999. By 2006, the number of family law cases awaiting trial in court had dramatically declined by 85%.[91] The success of CP in Medicine Hat can be attributed to the fact that most family lawyers in the area utilised the collaborative approach to resolve their divorce cases.[92]

 

  1. Australia

30        Given the long delays in the Family Court of Australia, which sometimes extends to more than three years, and skyrocketing legal fees,[93] it is easy to see why CP has been an attractive option in Australia, especially for couples who want to move on with their lives. The Family Law Council’s examination of CP in Australia found that in states or territories where collaborative law was thriving, it was due to the efforts of collaborative lawyers and institutional support. For instance, in the Australian Capital Territory, the proactive efforts of two family law firms drove the growth of collaborative law.[94] Additionally, in the states of Victoria and New South Wales, efforts to promote collaborative law were driven by the respective law societies that made such promotion a priority.[95] In 2006, the Family Law Council reported zero presence of CP in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.[96] Now, however, CP’s presence has expanded and one can now find collaborative lawyers in all states and territories in Australia, save for the Northern Territory.[97]

 

  1. Hong Kong

31        The Hong Kong Collaborative Practice Group (“HKCPG”) was set up in 2011.[98] A year later, the HKCPG had over 40 members. In 2016, the HKCPG expanded further to having approximately 70 members and was dealing with 20 to 30 CP cases a year.[99] While this growth is encouraging, Hong Kong still faces some issues with public awareness of CP.[100] Other issues Hong Kong faces include the trouble lawyers have with switching roles from adversaries to collaborators, as well as the limited number of mental health professionals and specialised family law practices in the jurisdiction. However, despite the difficulty lawyers may have switching hats when they represent clients in a collaborative divorce, many lawyers within the HKCPG have found that the relationships forged with other lawyers throughout their years in practice were beneficial to working collaboratively.[101] Issues relating to the limited number of professionals trained in CP can be solved once CP becomes more recognised as a means of resolving divorces.

 

  1. Encouraging use of collaborative practice in Singapore

32        Experiences of the jurisdictions discussed above provide valuable insight into how CP can also enjoy greater success in Singapore. With the potential that CP has in fulfilling restorative and therapeutic components of family justice, more needs to be done to encourage the use of CP in Singapore.

33        First, there needs to be a change in mindset amongst lawyers. Lawyers are often the first port of call for clients seeking to resolve a dispute. Given this, lawyers have to understand the needs of the client and match these needs with the most appropriate dispute resolution process.[102] In the context of family law in Singapore, the children’s best interests are paramount. Where there are children involved and the parties’ personalities and circumstances are suitable for a collaborative divorce, lawyers should recommend the collaborative process for its potential to preserve relationships and allow parents to co-parent effectively. Children ultimately benefit when they are not surrounded by warring parents.

34        This change in mindset is easier said than done, especially given that Singapore is an adversarial system. Lawyers are trained to be adversaries and a common sentiment amongst lawyers is that they hate losing. However, in the context of family law where outcomes have major effects on people’s lives, lawyers should reflect on how their advice and actions impact their clients’ lives and those around them. In the practice of family law where things are not as clear cut as winning or losing, lawyers need to work on shifting their mindset towards dispute resolution options that are more amicable, such as CP.[103] Singapore’s family bar is not big and many family lawyers know each other well because of their years practising family law. It is therefore not a big step to ask family lawyers to allow these relationships to translate into working collaboratively instead of against each other.

35        It is not enough to say that lawyers need to change their mindset and become less adversarial. Lawyers are trained to be adversarial and that is why change also needs to happen in legal education and training. It is suggested that law students be exposed to CP while in law school, or that CP be incorporated into the preparatory course leading to Part B of the Singapore Bar Examinations. CP could also be incorporated into Continuing Professional Development programmes. Another opportunity to encourage CP especially in family law would be through the proposal by the Committee for Family Justice to implement Family Law Practitioner accreditation for family lawyers.[104] Lawyers seeking to obtain such accreditation should be trained in CP.

36        Lawyers also need to transit from the mentality that moving away from litigation would mean that they would not be able to meet billing targets and that non-litigious ways of resolving disputes are less lucrative. Lawyer Catherine Gale’s experience in Australia has demonstrated that CP is just as, if not more, lucrative than litigation. Her practice ends up managing more cases, as matters take less time to resolve. Furthermore, Gale’s experience is that clients are happier to pay legal fees, having been involved in the collaborative process and seeing first‑hand the value a lawyer brings to helping them resolve their dispute.[105]

37        It is noted that there needs to be demand for CP in Singapore before lawyers can similarly operate lucrative practices focusing on CP. Therefore, more also needs to be done to raise awareness of CP amongst lawyers and the general public. The 2016 Global Pound Conference revealed that a lack of awareness of the dispute resolution options available was one of the biggest challenges faced in resolving disputes.[106] Introducing CP in law school and providing training for lawyers in CP would thus be a step in the right direction to educate lawyers. Lawyers can then in turn educate the public and raise awareness around resolving disputes collaboratively when clients consult them for help in their divorce or in resolving a dispute.[107]

38        Government support is crucial in encouraging the use of CP in Singapore. In Australia, the Government’s efforts in encouraging family dispute resolution and setting up family relationship centres led to a significant decrease in people utilising court processes.[108] Similarly in Taiwan, in the context of mediation, financial support from the Government resulted in increased usage of mediation.[109] It is noteworthy that the Singapore courts are supportive of the CP process where agreements arrived at through the collaborative process are given priority to be recorded as consent orders and parties can apply for a simplified divorce.[110] The Government could also go a step further to encourage the use of CP by waiving filing fees for divorces that have successfully gone through the collaborative process. In addition, the Family Justice Court’s plan to consider a low bono Family Law Assistance Scheme would also be a good avenue to encourage the use of CP in Singapore by making it more accessible to lower income couples.[111]

39        Ultimately, there needs to be a multi-faceted approach to encouraging CP in Singapore. The Government, legal educators, lawyers and the public need to work together to create a society where everyone seeks to resolve disputes amicably instead of rushing for the doors of the courts.[112]

 

VII.     Conclusion

40        Singapore’s approach to family justice recognises the fact that the family justice system has a key role to play in protecting our social fabric.[113] It is uncontroversial that outcomes in family law can sometimes leave scars that never go away and that more people are affected than just those who are directly involved. Members of the family justice system need to remember that family justice is not simply about parties’ legal entitlements. Family justice has to recognise the needs of those who pass through it and seek to advance their welfare both in the short term and long term.[114] In this vein, Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has acknowledged that “family disputes thus call not only for the delivery of substantive and procedural justice, but also restorative and therapeutic justice”.[115]

41        In the interest of achieving restorative and therapeutic justice in family law, Singapore’s Family Justice Court has set up a committee made up of representatives from several governmental and non-governmental agencies to review and enhance reforms in the family justice system (“RERF Committee”).[116] Part of the RERF Committee’s mandate is to explore “alternative and multi-disciplinary approaches to conflict resolution”.[117] CP falls squarely into this category, given the possibility of involving mental health and financial professionals in the collaborative process. It will be exciting to see where the work of the RERF Committee will take the Singapore family justice system.

42        It is heartening to see that Singapore’s efforts to reduce acrimony in the sphere of family law have borne fruit. This is indicative through the significant rise in the percentage of simplified, uncontested divorces in two years from 24% of all divorces filed in 2015 to 49% of all divorces filed in 2017.[118] IACP’s practice survey of collaborative divorces done over a period of four years from 16 October 2006 to 6 July 2010 revealed an 86% success rate, with a further 2% of cases resulting in reconciliation.[119] Considering this, there is a good chance that increased usage of CP in Singapore will help further increase the percentage of simplified, uncontested divorces in the years to come.

43        In conclusion, the potential for CP to maintain and strengthen relationships through working collaboratively while taking into consideration the needs and interests of couples and their children, paired with the fact that it sets the stage for effective co-parenting, means that it can achieve the therapeutic and restorative components of family justice. The reduced conflict associated with collaborative divorces also allows everyone involved to move on to new phases of their lives faster. Furthermore, the potential for time and cost savings, as well as the consequent reduction of the court’s workload, makes CP a more attractive option. The Government, lawyers and the public should all embrace CP and the benefits it can bring to family justice. Each stakeholder has a part to play: the Government supports the promotion of CP; lawyers have some sway over their clients’ choice of dispute resolution mechanism, given that they are often one of the first ports of call when a conflict arises; and the public, encouraged by both lawyers and the Government, can choose to resolve disputes amicably. If all stakeholders in the family justice system work together, Singapore can create a society that does not rush to litigate and instead first seeks to resolve conflict collaboratively, thereby preserving the family relationships that form key building blocks of Singapore society.

*The author acknowledges and thanks Cheryl Rita de Jong, LLB (Hons) University of Tasmania, for researching and assisting to write this article.

[1] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at para 7.

[2] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 435.

[3] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at para 7.

[4] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at paras 9 and 10.

[5] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at paras 13 and 14.

[6] Rajan Chettiar & Dr Peter Loke, “A New Alternate Dispute Resolution Method” SMA News (November 2013) <https://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/4511/CMEP.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[7] Susan Hansen, “Reflections of a Past President: Then and Now” (2014) 14(2) The Collaborative Review 11.

[8] Priscilla Goy, “Low Take-up Rate for Schemes to Help Divorcing Couples”, AsiaOne (19 May 2015).

[9] Priscilla Goy, “Low Take-up Rate For Schemes To Help Divorcing Couples”, AsiaOne (19 May 2015).

[10] Singapore Mediation Centre website, “CFP Panel” <http://www.mediation.com.sg/expert-panels/cfp-panel/> (accessed 25 July 2019).

[11] Rajan Chettiar & Dr Peter Loke, “A New Alternate Dispute Resolution Method”, SMA News (November 2013) <https://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/4511/CMEP.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[12] Rajan Chettiar & Dr Peter Loke, “A New Alternate Dispute Resolution Method”, SMA News (November 2013) <https://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/4511/CMEP.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[13] See Singapore Mediation Centre website <http://www.mediation.com.sg/business-services/family-services/> (accessed 29 July 2019).

[14] See Singapore Mediation Centre website, “Overview of CFP Process” <http://www.mediation.com.sg/business-services/family-services/collaborative-family-practice/> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[15] Rajan Chettiar & Dr Peter Loke, “A New Alternate Dispute Resolution Method”, SMA News (November 2013) <https://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/4511/CMEP.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[16] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[17] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[18] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society Of South Australia) 36.

[19] Sanaa Lundgren, “Collaborative Family Practice, New Generation Divorce?” SACAC Counselling (7 September 2018).

19 Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88; Sanaa Lundgren, “Collaborative Family Practice, New Generation Divorce?” SACAC Counselling (7 September 2018).

[21] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society of South Australia) 36.

[22] Gay G Cox, “Profile of Common Characteristics in Collaborative Cases” (8 November 2011) <https://www.collaborativepractice.com/resources> (accessed 24 June 2019).

[23] Gay G Cox, “Profile of Common Characteristics in Collaborative Cases” (8 November 2011) <https://www.collaborativepractice.com/resources> (accessed 24 June 2019).

[24] Gay G Cox, “Profile of Common Characteristics in Collaborative Cases” (8 November 2011) <https://www.collaborativepractice.com/resources> (accessed 24 June 2019).

[25] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society of South Australia) 36.

[26] Sanaa Lundgren, “Collaborative Family Practice, New Generation Divorce?” SACAC Counselling (7 September 2018).

[27] Susan Hansen, Jeanne Schroeder & Kathy Gehl, “The Child Specialist Role in Client Choice of Process: Focusing on the Children and Enhancing Value” (2013) 13(1) The Collaborative Review 13.

[28] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 48, para 43.

[29] See Singapore Mediation Centre website, “FAQ” <http://www.mediation.com.sg/business-services/family-services/collaborative-family-practice/> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[30] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[31] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[32] Priscilla Goy, “Low Take-up Rate for Schemes to Help Divorcing Couples” AsiaOne (19 May 2015).

[33] Stacey Langenbahn “Collaborative Mediation: The New Divorce Solution” <https://www.mediate.com/mediator/attachments/30595/Collaborative%20Mediation.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[34] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[35] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[36] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[37]Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[38] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 73 and 74, paras 8 and 10.

[39]Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 72 and 74, paras 7 and 10.

[40] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 76, para 14.

[41] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 73, para 8.

[42] See paras 14–18 below.

[43] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[44] Cliff Buddle, “Hong Kong Divorce Professionals Promote Radical Alternative to Court Action” South China Morning Post (31 March 2016).

[45] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.40.

[46] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[47] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[48] Justice Debbie Ong, Judge, Supreme Court of Singapore, “Family Justice Courts: In The Next Phase”, speech at the Family Justice Courts Workplan 2018 (28 February 2018) at para 18.

[49] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 436.

[50] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 436.

[51] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 428 and 436; Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.41.

[52] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 435.

[53] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 48, para 46.

[54] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[55] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.40.

[56] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.40.

[57] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 48, para 46.

[58] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 435.

[59] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society of South Australia) 36; Kay K W Chan, Nicholas Hemens & Jain Brown, “First Step Going East: Collaborative Practice in Hong Kong”, (2013) 13(2) The Collaborative Review 12.

[60] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society of South Australia) 36.

[61] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 48, para 44.

[62]  Laura Elizabeth Philomin, “Divorce Made Less Bitter with New Mediation Process” Today (18 May 2015).

[63] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 48, para 44.

[64] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society of South Australia) 36.

[65] Rajan Chettiar & Dr Peter Loke, “A New Alternate Dispute Resolution Method” SMA News (November 2013) <https://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/4511/CMEP.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[66] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[67] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 434 and 436.

[68] See Collaborative Practice Committee, “Collaborative Practice in South Australia” <https://www.lawsocietysa.asn.au/Public/Publications/Resources/Community/Collaborative_Practice.aspx?WebsiteKey=f282a980-3d01-4268-abde-25da9e81104d> (accessed 11 July 2019).

[69] Artemisia Ng, “Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice Takes Root in Hong Kong” Asian Legal Business (14 March 2012).

[70] Collaborative Practice Committee, “Collaborative Practice in South Australia” <https://www.lawsocietysa.asn.au/Public/Publications/Resources/Community/Collaborative_Practice.aspx?WebsiteKey=f282a980-3d01-4268-abde-25da9e81104d> (accessed 11 July 2019).

[71] Collaborative Practice Committee, “Collaborative Practice in South Australia” <https://www.lawsocietysa.asn.au/Public/Publications/Resources/Community/Collaborative_Practice.aspx?WebsiteKey=f282a980-3d01-4268-abde-25da9e81104d> (accessed 11 July 2019).

[72] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88; Yap Teong Liang, “The Family Lawyer of Tomorrow”, Singapore Law Gazette (January 2017).

[73] Stacey Langenbahn “Collaborative Mediation: The New Divorce Solution” <https://www.mediate.com/mediator/attachments/30595/Collaborative%20Mediation.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[74] Stacey Langenbahn “Collaborative Mediation: The New Divorce Solution” <https://www.mediate.com/mediator/attachments/30595/Collaborative%20Mediation.pdf> (accessed 27 June 2019).

[75] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013); Laura Elizabeth Philomin, “Divorce Made Less Bitter with New Mediation Process”, Today (18 May 2015).

[76] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[77] Christopher Swan, “The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Model of Dispute Resolution” (2017) 39(6) Bulletin (Law Society of South Australia) 36.

[78] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 9.4.

[79] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 9.5.

[80] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[81] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 9.6.

[82] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 9.7.

[83] Robert Merlin, “The Collaborative Process Act: The Future is Now” (2017) 91(4) Fla Bar J 53; Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[84] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[85] See International Academy of Collaborative Professionals website <https://www.collaborativepractice.com/collaborative-practice-groups?country=All&state_province=All> (accessed 25 July 2019).

[86] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.4.

[87] National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, “Uniform Collaborative Law Act” (2009) 38(2) Hofstra L Rev 421 at 443.

[88] See Uniform Law Commission website <https://www.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home?CommunityKey=fdd1de2f-baea-42d3-bc16-a33d74438eaf> (accessed 15 July 2019).

[89] Robert Merlin, “The Collaborative Process Act: The Future is Now” (2017) 91(4) Fla Bar J 53.

[90] Robert Merlin, “The Collaborative Process Act: The Future is Now” (2017) 91(4) Fla Bar J 53.

[91] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.22.

[92] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 3.22.

[93] Shelby Timmins, “Family Law: Thinking Outside the Box: Collaborative Practice in Family Law” (2017) 31 LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal 88.

[94] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 4.4.

[95] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at paras 4.10 and 4.17.

[96] Australia, Family Law Council, Collaborative Practice in Family Law: A Report to the Attorney-General (December 2006) at para 4.19.

[97] Collaborative Professionals (NSW) Inc website <http://collabprofessionalsnsw.org.au/practitioners/> (accessed 15 July 2019); Collaborative SA website <http://collaborativesa.com.au/find-a-practitioner/> (accessed 15 July 2019); Law Institute of Victoria website <https://www.liv.asn.au/Professional-Practice/Areas-of-Law/Collaborative-Practice> (accessed 15 July 2019); Collaborative Practice Canberra website <http://collaborativepracticecanberra.com.au/find-a-lawyer/> (accessed 15 July 2019); Collaborative Professionals WA website <http://www.collaborativeprofessionalswa.com.au/find-a-collaborative-professional.html> (accessed 15 July 2019); Queensland Collaborative Law website <https://www.qcl.org.au/about/> (accessed 15 July 2019); Australian Association of Collaborative Professionals website <https://www.collaborativeaustralia.com.au/find-a-professional/> (accessed 15 July 2019); Collaborative Alliance Tasmania website <https://www.collaborativealliancetas.com/> (accessed 15 July 2019).

[98] Kay K W Chan, Nicholas Hemens & Jain Brown, “First Step Going East: Collaborative Practice in Hong Kong” (2013) 13(2) The Collaborative Review 12.

[99] Cliff Buddle, “Hong Kong Divorce Professionals Promote Radical Alternative to Court Action” South China Morning Post (31 March 2016).

[100] Cliff Buddle, “Hong Kong Divorce Professionals Promote Radical Alternative to Court Action” South China Morning Post (31 March 2016).

[101] Kay K W Chan, Nicholas Hemens & Jain Brown, “First Step Going East: Collaborative Practice in Hong Kong” (2013) 13(2) The Collaborative Review 12.

[102] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 79–80, para 22; Yap Teong Liang, “The Family Lawyer of Tomorrow” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2017).

[103] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 85–86, para 37.

[104] Justice Debbie Ong, Judge, Supreme Court of Singapore, “Family Justice Courts: In The Next Phase”, speech at the Family Justice Courts Workplan 2018 (28 February 2018) at para 49.

[105] Jasmine Foong & Michelle Woodworth Cordeiro, “Conversation with Catherine Gale of Conflict Resolve, Lawyers and Mediators: Collaborative Law – The New Alternative to Litigation?” Singapore Law Gazette (January 2013).

[106] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 74 and 75, para 12.

[107] Dorcas Quek Anderson & Joel Lee, “The Global Pound Conference in Singapore: A Conversation on the Future of Dispute Resolution” [2016] Asian JM 70 at 86, para 38.

[108] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 42–43, para 18.

[109] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 47 and 49, paras 40 and 52.

[110] See Singapore Mediation Centre website, “FAQ” <http://www.mediation.com.sg/business-services/family-services/collaborative-family-practice/> (accessed 27 June 2019); Family Justice Courts Practice Directions r 15.

[111] Justice Debbie Ong, Judge, Supreme Court “Family Justice Courts: In The Next Phase”, speech at the Family Justice Courts Workplan 2018 (28 February 2018) at para 54.

[112] Rajan Chettiar, “Private Mediation: The Better Way to Resolve Family Disputes” [2016] Asian JM 38 at 50, para 57.

[113] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at para 9.

[114] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at para 9.

[115] Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Future of Family Justice: International and Multi-Disciplinary Pathways” Singapore Law Gazette (November 2016) at para 11.

[116] Indranee Rajah SC, Second Minister for Law, “Supporting, Healing, Reconstructing”, keynote address at the Family Conference 2018 (8 May 2018) at para 58.

[117] Indranee Rajah SC, Second Minister for Law, “Supporting, Healing, Reconstructing”, keynote address at the Family Conference 2018 (8 May 2018) at para 59.

[118] Justice Debbie Ong, Judge, Supreme Court of Singapore, “Family Justice Courts: In The Next Phase”, speech at the Family Justice Courts Workplan 2018 (28 February 2018) at para 61.

[119] Gay G Cox, Honey Sheff, Tracy Stewart & Linda Wray, “IACP Practice Survey Research Report Comparing Jurisdictions” <https://www.collaborativepractice.com/resources> (accessed 4 July 2019

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