Collaborative law: the future cornerstone of the resolution process?

AuthorLouise Crowley
PositionCollege Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University College Cork
2009] The Future Cornerstone of the Resolution Process? 19
Collaborative law was developed originally in the United
States,1 and more recently has received significant support from
Irish family law practitioners. In essence its ultimate aim is not
particularly novel – it seeks to encourage and facilitate the
resolution of family law disputes without recourse to the
adversarial courts system.2 Recent court-based research has
confirmed the long-held view that it is the exception rather than
the rule that a family law dispute will reach the courtroom.3
What is different about the practice of collaborative law is that the
resolution of the dispute becomes the primary, if not the sole aim,
of both parties who sign up to an “agreement to agree” the details
of the dissolution. Perhaps just as importantly, collaborative
lawyers are parties to this non-adversarial approach to the dispute,
and commit to relinquish their involvement in the case in the
event that the parties eventually proceed to court hearing. In terms
* College Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University College Cork.
1 The practice of collaborative law was first advocated in 1990 by Stuart Webb,
a family lawyer from Minnesota.
2 The collaborative law process is described by Tesler as consisting of “… two
parties and their respective lawyers who sign a binding stipulation defining the
scope and sole purpose of the lawyers’ representation: to help the parties
engage in creative problem-solving aimed at reaching a negotiated agreement
that meets the legitimate needs of both parties”: Tesler, Collaborative Law
(American Bar Association, 2001), p. 7.
3 See generally reports published by the Courts Service entitled Family Law
Matters, setting out the research and analysis of Carol Coulter. For example,
Coulter examined the settlement rates on the South-Western Circuit noting the
variability of those rates but including a 96% settlement rate in Limerick
Circuit Court cases. See (2007) 1(3) Family Law Matters 46, 46-47. In “Inside
the Family Courts”, Irish Times, 7 March 2009, Coulter noted that more than
90% of family law cases in the Circuit Court are settled without going to a full

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