How to Prepare for your First Collaborative 4-way Meeting

By Melissa Salfi, Vancouver Senior Family and Collaborative Divorce Lawyer

Collaborative divorce is a transformative approach to separation, where the aim is to resolve family law matters cooperatively. Unlike traditional divorce proceedings that are often more adversarial in nature, the collaborative process involves both parties and their collaborative divorce lawyers working together through 4-way meetings.

The initial 4-way meeting serves as a roadmap for the collaborative process, setting the tone and direction for the entire process, and guiding both parties towards a resolution that respects their individual needs and shared outcomes. Being prepared and organized will help ensure the first meeting is productive and that the process goes more smoothly.

This blog is designed to equip you with strategies for your first collaborative 4-way meeting. You’ll learn how to prepare effectively, what to expect during the meeting, and how to engage in a manner that fosters open, productive dialogues. While clients may have an initial 4-way meeting with divorce coaches, in this blog we’ll focus solely on making your initial 4-way collaborative meeting a success.

Collaborative vs Non-Collaborative Meetings 

Before we delve into the nuances of collaborative 4-way meetings, it’s helpful to first understand how this process differs from the more traditional, non-collaborative approach. In a typical divorce under a traditional lawyer-client retainer, lawyers may arrange 4-way meetings to negotiate settlements. These meetings often become adversarial, with discussions centered on positional bargaining, where each lawyer is primarily focused on advocating for their client’s interests. In contrast, collaborative 4-way meetings foster a team-oriented approach, emphasizing interest-based negotiation. This approach explores the underlying needs, wants, goals, concerns, and fears of each party. The aim is to achieve sustainable outcomes that not only resolve the issues but satisfy everyone involved, fostering a spirit of cooperation rather than conflict.

Collaborative 4-Way Meetings: The Agenda

Once you and your partner have decided to resolve your family law matter outside of court through the collaborative divorce process, the next step is to each retain a collaborative divorce lawyer. An initial 4-way meeting will then be scheduled, marking the start of your collaborative journey.

Prior to your first 4-way meeting, you will receive an agenda. The agenda serves to keep the discussion focused and constructive. For parties who are eager to move through the process quickly, the agenda may initially seem rudimentary in nature, but covering each topic is important for the process to be successful.

Review the agenda carefully and be prepared to discuss each item in it. You can typically expect the agenda to include sections about your goals, hopes, and concerns with the process and the future in general. To prepare, consider the following:

  1. What is important to you?
  2. What are your priorities?
  3. What do you want to achieve during this process?
  4. What are you afraid of?
If it helps, write it down! Don’t dismiss this part as immaterial. Your interests guide the process, and lawyers trained in mediation and interest-based negotiation rely heavily on the parties’ interests in helping resolve their matter in a mutually agreeable manner.

If you have any questions or concerns about the agenda, you should address them with your lawyer prior to the meeting.

The Collaborative Participation Agreement

After aligning your objectives with the agenda, the next step is to attend the 4-way meeting, where you will review and execute a collaborative participation agreement (the “agreement”).

The meeting typically begins with an introduction to the collaborative process and the roles of the lawyers involved, followed by the review, and signing of the agreement. You should receive a copy of that agreement prior to the meeting.

The agreement outlines the parties’ obligations, responsibilities, and rights in the collaborative process. By signing, you commit to resolving your case collaboratively, agreeing not to pursue or threaten to pursue litigation. If litigation is initiated by either party, the agreement includes a “disqualification clause” that terminates the collaborative process and disallows the involved lawyers from further representation.

All communications exchanged or documents created during the collaborative process are confidential and without prejudice. Amongst other terms, there are also important clauses about providing full disclosure and negotiating in good faith.

It is critical to review the agreement carefully and make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are entering into as it is a legally binding contract. Take this opportunity to discuss any uncertainties with your lawyer and ensure you fully understand the terms before agreeing to them.

Review of Current Circumstances

After finalizing the agreement, the conversation will initially focus on identifying the legal issues that need to be resolved. From there, the discussion will typically shift to your current living and financial arrangements, as well as, (if applicable) the children’s present circumstances (such as the parenting time schedule). During this stage of the process, we will check-in to see if there are any immediate issues that need to be addressed or adjustments you might want to consider during the collaborative process, or even before the next meeting.

To ensure you are holistically supported through the process, we may also discuss bringing in other professionals, such as divorce coaches, financial neutrals, or child specialists, where needed.

To prepare for this discussion, it is beneficial to jot down any concerns you have about the present arrangements. Make a detailed list of issues related to finances, parenting, or living situations that you feel need to be addressed during this meeting.

Financial Disclosure

One important aspect of any separation is the exchange of financial disclosure. Ensuring your financial disclosures are complete and transparent helps prevent surprises and ensures resolutions are fair and informed, keeping everyone on the same page throughout the collaborative process.

During the 4-way meeting, we will discuss what financial documents have been exchanged to date and what still needs to be shared. This typically includes reviewing your income information, as well as the assets and debts that need to be addressed. If it hasn’t been done already, we will plan to set-up a shared secure folder and create a 'Schedule of Assets & Debts', detailing all your assets and liabilities. We will also consider whether any expert reports are needed, such as business valuations, pension valuations, or home appraisals.

You can prepare for this meeting by gathering your financial documents beforehand and sharing them with your lawyer. Ideally, these documents should be organized into a folder and exchanged prior to the meeting to streamline the process.

Below is a list of documents typically required for this part of the process. Please note that not all these documents may be applicable to your case, and additional documents relevant to your situation might be needed. It is recommended that you consult with your family lawyer before gathering your documents to ensure that nothing is overlooked:

  1. Income documents (for the past 3 years), such as:

    Income tax returns
    Notices of assessment
    Corporate tax returns and financial statements (if applicable)
    Last 3 paystubs (if applicable)

  2. Bank accounts - a copy of the most recent statement for all accounts that shows the current balance, as well as the balance at the date of separation.
  3. Retirement accounts (i.e. RRSPs, RRIFs, etc.) - a copy of the most recent statement for all accounts that shows the current balance, as well as the balance at the date of separation.
  4. Investment accounts (i.e. stock options, TFSAs, mutual funds, etc.) - a copy of the most recent statement for all accounts that shows the current balance, as well as the balance at the date of separation.
  5. Real Estate - copies of any assessments or home appraisals showing the present market value of any real estate owned by either party or jointly. 
  6. Vehicles - copies of any loan agreements and any documentation that supports the vehicle(s) present market value.
  7. Life insurance policies (where applicable).
  8. Mortgages, loans, credit cards, and other debts – copies of the most recent statement for all accounts that shows the current balance, as well as the balance at the date of separation.
  9. Pensions – a copy of the most recent statement or, if completed, a pension valuation.
If you are able to create a spreadsheet of your family assets and debts, it can save a lot of time and money. In that spreadsheet, you should include:

a. the last four digits of any account numbers, so it is easy for everyone to identify the different accounts.
b. the name of the banking institution (e.g. Scotiabank).
c. the type of account (i.e. chequing, savings, investment, etc.).
d. the amount in the account or balance owing, both currently and at the date of separation.

For example: Scotiabank TFSA ending in 6587 - $20,000 date of separation; $30,000 current.

Open Mindset 

It is normal to feel nervous going into your first meeting. You are likely dealing with big life changes and processing difficult emotions from the breakdown of your relationship.

Try your best to approach this meeting and the process with an open mind and a willingness to listen. You will be expected to communicate respectfully and work together. Remind yourself why you entered this process and what you and your family are gaining by not resorting to litigation.

Write down any questions you have and be prepared to answer questions and share your objectives and concerns. If you need a break during the meeting or want to consult with your lawyer privately, don’t hesitate to ask. While your lawyer is working collaboratively, they have a duty to advocate for your interests and want to make sure you feel comfortable.

Conclusion of Meeting

The meeting typically concludes with a recap of the tasks assigned and the scheduling of another meeting, if necessary. To ensure all participants can fully engage in the discussion, one of the collaborative divorce lawyers will prepare and distribute meeting minutes to the group. This practice allows everyone to focus on the dialogue without the distraction of notetaking.

Your first 4-way meeting is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a constructive process, set goals, and start working towards a resolution that meets the interests of both parties.

At Crossroads Law, our collaborative divorce lawyers are seasoned professionals who have seen firsthand the success of this approach. We are committed to guiding you through this process with the utmost professionalism and care, focused on achieving the best possible outcomes for everyone involved. Let us help you focus on what truly matters. Book your free consultation with one of our collaborative divorce lawyers today!

The information contained in this blog is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only.