West Midlands law firm Challinors is launching a special kind of divorce service.

It says the move heralds sweeping changes to the ways in which couples settle disputes as part of the break-up.

Collaborative family law first emerged in the US as an alternative to mediation.

The practice is relatively new to the UK, and Challinors is aiming to pioneer it in Birmingham and the Black Country.

Partner Tania Derrett-Smith, who uses the process, said: "Couples undertaking divorce proceedings have traditionally had two options: either go to court or reach a settlement via mediation.

"Collaborative family law represents an entirely new proposition and presents another option to divorcing couples in terms of resolving matrimonial disputes.

"After both parties have appointed a lawyer trained in collaborative family law, they each sign a participation agreement which affirms their full commitment to resolving issues without going to court.

"Furthermore, the legal representatives are disqualified from acting on behalf of their clients if collaboration fails, which ultimately serves as an additional incentive for all involved to make the process work.

"Potentially, this saves divorcing couples the financial burden of court proceedings and also helps avoid the emotional turmoil of playing out an acrimonious split in front of the courts."

She says mediation has its limitations when compared to collaboration.

She continued: "A mediator is bought on board to facilitate communication between divorcing parties and as such performs a neutral role throughout dispute proceedings.

"A collaborative lawyer, on the other hand, acts as a personal advocate. Together with the divorcing couple, the two lawyers attend all meetings, and this four-way participation can be reassuring for those who require additional support in communicating their position at the discussion and negotiation stage.

"Those who choose the collaboration route therefore stand to benefit from having a legal expert present through-out.

"Subsequently, when an agreement is reached, their lawyer can continue to act on their behalf by obtaining a consent order and formalising this. Mediators are prohibited from giving legal advice and any settlement discussed during the process only becomes binding after each party has sought legal advice. Crucially, the mediator is unable to prepare the court papers to gain a consent order, and is therefore prevented from seeing the process through."

She went on: "Support for collaborative family law is gathering pace.

"The process is seen as being dignified, efficient and fair when compared to other methods of dispute resolution; however this optimism is currently tempered by the lack of trained collaborative lawyers located in Birmingham.

"We are hopeful that by being one of the first city centre law firms to practice collaborative family law, we can make a real difference to those whose lives are affected by divorce."

Challinors has 29 partners, 16 associates, 15 assistant solicitors, 27 other fee earners, and 111 support staff. Tania Derrett-Smith