You and your partner retain separate, specially trained lawyers, who will assist you in resolving issues without going to court.
Your Collaborative Lawyer, acts for you, providing legal advice and guidance throughout the process, but working with your partner and his/her lawyer as part of a team, to help achieve settlement.
You, your partner, and your lawyers agree to work together in a respectful, honest and dignified way to try and reach settlement without threatening to go to court.
You sign an agreement disqualifying your Collaborative Lawyers from representing you at court if the collaboration process breaks down. Neither of the lawyers, or their respective firms, can then act for you - although they will still be bound by confidentiality about any negotiations which had occurred. You would need to instruct new lawyers to proceed to court.
Issues are discussed and hopefully resolved in 'four-way' face-to-face meetings between you, your partner and your lawyers. Settlement discussions take place in your presence, which helps ensure that you and your partner remain in charge of the process. The process thereby helps improve future communication: this is particularly important when you have children.