Enduring a divorce is a trying time in anyone's life, let alone having to suffer through disputes regarding property, child custody, huge legal bills, lengthy court hearings and the loss of one's significant other. Collaborative law, also referred to as Collaborative Practice or Collaborative Divorce, is the newest appropriate dispute alternative to a traditional litigated court divorce. In Collaborative law, divorcing couples have the opportunity to participate in a less painful process where they remain in control of their settlement decisions.
What Is Collaborative Law?
In collaborative law, each party has their own attorney. In the beginning of the process, everyone signs an agreement stating that they will negotiate with each other in the highest good faith and under no circumstances will go to court. If either party does decide to go to court, the process terminates and the attorneys must withdraw. Throughout the process, the parties and their attorneys work within set parameters to reach a settlement that is agreeable to both sides. By signing the agreement, parties and their attorneys agree that all efforts will be made to resolve the conflict in a respectful and open manner. This includes the sharing of all documents and financial information, the discussion of the well-being of children and the sharing of experts. The contract also stipulates that if the situation cannot be settled outside of court, the attorneys will withdraw and each party will have to employ new representation. This is an added incentive for collaborative law attorneys and the parties to seek agreement between their clients.
Collaborative Law acknowledges both the financial and emotional aspects of divorce. The Collaborative process team approach brings divorce coaches (communication specialists) financial specialists and child specialists (if appropriate) to assist the parties to understand the issues and make good decisions. The entire team focus is to support the couple in reaching a mutually agreeable resolution to all conflicts. Rather than airing differences in the public eye of the courtroom, the collaborative divorce process seeks to resolve the conflict in a more respectful and private setting.
The Collaborative Process
Not all lawyers are trained as collaborative lawyers. It is important to ensure that when you choose a lawyer, he or she has been trained in the collaborative law process. Always ask about the type of training and their background in handling collaborative cases. After the contract is completed, a series of joint conferences will begin between the spouses and their lawyers. Often, the other neutral advisors or "specialists" will be involved to guide the parties through the negotiation and settlement process. The team is utilized by the parties to help them reach a settlement agreement. Once the couple reaches a settlement, the attorneys draft the agreements into a Marital Settlement Agreement. This document is then signed and submitted to the court for filing. If an agreement cannot be reached, each side's lawyer will withdraw and the case will proceed in court.
Professionals may be obtained, based on the particular needs of the couple involved, to resolve various issues. Unlike divorce proceedings that go to court, these specialists are unbiased toward one side or the other. The sharing of neutral specialists, instead of each side having their own, avoids excessive costs and the typical "battle of the experts" that can occur in the courtroom.
If children are involved, a child specialist may be retained to act as a voice for them to help the parents fashion a parenting plan that meets needs of the children. This person can also be helpful in assisting parents with tools to communicate with their children during this stressful time.
Financial experts, such as appraisers, accountants or financial advisors assist in determining valuation of assets, planning and executing financial transactions between the parties.
Divorce coaches, sometimes referred to as "communication specialists," help the parties to communicate effectively and productively. Although each person has his/her own divorce coach, the process is "transparent" and there is often open communication between the divorce coaches and the rest of the team, which allows the team to work together for the benefit of both parties. Since good communication is imperative in effectively reaching amicable agreements, the importance of a divorce coach cannot be overemphasized.
Is Collaborative Law Right for Me? What are the Benefits?
The success of the collaborative law process depends upon the parties' commitment to it. Children and the effect a highly conflicted divorce has on them, is an important factor to consider in determining whether collaborative law is the right option for you. The process is often less costly, less time consuming, less stressful and more informal than a courtroom. Collaborative law focuses on problem solving, rather than the emotions of the conflict and the typical "winner take all" mentality.
Statistics show that upwards of ninety percent of collaborative law divorce cases end with a successful resolution. One must realize however, that before taking the collaborative law path, it takes two willing parties to consummate the agreement. If a spouse is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, the chances of a successful resolution can be greatly diminished. The most important decision to be made after the decision to divorce is the choice of the most appropriate dispute resolution process. Both spouses should explore, consider and discuss the options and reach a joint decision.