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The Collaborative Law Process: The steps to a quick resolution

Step 1: Individual Discussions with your Attorney- Both spouses meet with their respective Collaborative attorneys to discuss individual needs and concerns. This step gets all parties

Step 2: All Parties meet to discuss key issues - Then, the couple and their attorneys all meet together to reach a settlement without involving the court. Every issue – including property division, parenting allocation, and support – is put “on the table” in these sessions. At times other professionals including Mental Health Professionals and Financial Experts may become part of the “team” to assist couples in reaching resolutions. This is strictly at the individuals requests. Divorcing parties benefit from the skills, advice, and support of attorneys and other professionals while striving to work things out in a positive, future-focused manner.

Step 3: Reaching a settlement- When a settlement is reached, attorneys file the appropriate paperwork required by the court.

A Collaborative Law dispute resolution process involves the following elements (all embodied in an up-front written agreement):

A. Litigation Prohibited. The lawyers contractually limit the scope of their engagements-if the process breaks down, the lawyers (and their firms) are disqualified from further representation of those clients. If litigation has been commenced, it must be suspended while the collaborative process is under way. In either case, a failure to reach an agreed resolution disqualifies the lawyers engaged in the collaborative law process from participating in litigation of the matter. By changing the role of the lawyer from gladiator-strategist for beating the other side-to collaborator-participant in problem-solving, brainstorming and guiding negotiations, the entire resolution process is altered. If the process breaks down (by a party failing to participate as agreed, withdrawing or seeking any court relief), the parties have reserved their rights to litigate, and they may proceed to do so with new lawyers.

B. Client Control /Participation by Clients. Clients are in control in a collaborative law dispute resolution process-in control of the schedule; in control of the agenda; and, ultimately, in control of the resolution that meets their needs, and in the case of divorce, those of their children. The collaborative law process involves face-to-face negotiating sessions with the decision-making clients and their lawyers in the room. The parties know their respective interests and needs better than anyone, and this process seeks to put those interests and needs center stage and on the same stage in order to find a solution.

C. Separate Representation of each party. Each party has a lawyer-an advocate to answer questions about the law, to assist in negotiations and to problem solve with the client and other parties.

D. Information Exchange is Prompt and Complete. Parties agree, as part of the process, that they will make full and timely disclosure of all relevant information-no hide the ball; no stonewalling.

E. Experts Jointly Retained. Experts in the collaborative law process are retained by all the parties, again, to inform the process and the participants. Divorcing parties may hire a therapist to help them address parenting issues, or an appraiser to value the family business. If the process breaks down, the experts are disqualified from future court proceedings, unless the parties agree otherwise.

F. Commitment to the Process by both parties. In addition to committing to all of the above, the parties agree to engage in the process in good faith. Vigorous negotiation is expected and encouraged. Options are fully explored.

Key advantages and benefits of Collaborative Law

1. Save Everyone’s Time and Money: You get more from your resources. The collaborative process is usually less costly and time-consuming than litigation. When you reach an agreement, it can be finalized within a shorter time frame. You do not get bogged down for months while you wait for a court date.

2. Retain Control of the process: Though you each have a lawyer, you and your spouse take responsibility for shaping the settlement as the key members of the team. The process stimulates communications.

3. Gain Support in time of need: You craft the settlement cooperatively with your spouse while benefiting from your attorney’s advocacy, problem-solving, and negotiating skills. You receive insight and support from other professionals who assist in identifying your interests and your children’s needs.

4. Focus on what’s important – a settlement: You can focus on settlement. Removing the threat of “going to court” reduces anxiety and fear, thereby helping you focus on finding positive solutions. Encourage mutual respect. Utilize a problem solving approach.

5. Focus on the Future: You lay groundwork for a better future. There is no pain-free way to end a marriage, but by reducing stress, working in a climate of cooperation, and treating each other with respect, you and your spouse are creating an environment in which you and your children can thrive. Emphasize the needs of your children.

6. Reach a Better win- win Settlement: You negotiate a better settlement. Every family is unique and every family deserves a unique solution to the issues raised in a separation or divorce proceeding. The collaborative process produces final agreements that are frequently more detailed and complete than any order that would be issued by a judge after a contested court proceeding. The settlement allows you to be prepared for a new life.

Make the choice:

Is Collaborative Law right for you?

Couples facing separation and divorce encounter many challenges — especially when children are involved. Parents must resolve important issues with significant thought to the after-effects. Collaborative Family Law provides a positive context in which to deal with these concerns without resorting to litigation.
The lawyers and clients sign a Participation Agreement which provides that if the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the lawyers will withdraw from the case and assist the clients in transitioning the case to trial attorneys. By establishing an open, cooperative environment, parties and their counsel can work toward a settlement that benefits everyone. Collaborative law empowers spouses to dissolve their marriage with dignity.

Consider Collaborative Law if you and your spouse:
• believe it is important to protect your children from the harm litigation can inflict
• place a high value on personal responsibility in resolving conflict
• are able to focus on a positive solution for the entire family
• want to preserve a respectful working relationship during and after the process is over
• see the need to disclose full and accurate information about financial issues