What is Collaborative Family Law?
Collaborative Family Law is a method of settling cases without court intervention. It blends the benefits of each client being represented by an attorney with the cooperative face-to-face negotiation of mediation. Clients, attorneys and other collaborative team professionals assigned to a case sign a Collaborative Participation Agreement that details their commitment to this non-adversarial process.
In Collaborative Family Law two clients and two lawyers work as a team to generate options for a mutually acceptable, comprehensive settlement. Where appropriate, other collaboratively trained professionals join the team to provide added expertise and counseling. These collaborative professionals can include a facilitator, coaches, parenting specialists and financial analysts.
Both clients enable collaboration by sharing all knowledge each has that bears on the process and by treating the other with honesty and respect. This enables trust and assures fair dealing. By participating in the process, both clients are agreeing that they are willing to:
And, both clients are agreeing that they do not want to turn their decision-making over to a judge or endure the trauma and expense of litigation, or threatened litigation, and that they want to work amicably to reach a settlement.
The Meeting Format:
The process typically starts with each client meeting with his or her own attorney. The two attorneys then meet for a planning session to lay the groundwork and set the agenda for the first team meeting. Then each attorney meets with his or her client to prepare for the first team meeting.
At the first team meeting clients and attorneys sign the Collaborative Participation Agreement – an enforceable, binding contract. The parties and attorneys sign this contract agreeing not to go to court. If the case later goes to court, the collaborative attorneys will withdraw and help the parties transition to litigating attorneys. The newly established team will also address the issues of immediate concern like how bills will be paid, and, if you have children, what your parenting plan will be during the negotiation period.
Meetings are usually 2 hours in length, scheduled about 2 or 3 weeks apart. They generally end with “homework” assignments being given to each participant in preparation for the next session.
The team meeting format continues until a complete settlement has been reached, but the format may be changed based on the needs and agreements of the team.
Collaborative Family Law is not about winning or losing; the goal of an agreed upon settlement is to permit both clients to achieve their objectives to the greatest extent possible taking into consideration the resources available. Clients are encouraged to participate directly in the process, and with the assistance of their counsel, are expected to identify and assert his or her own respective interests.
The collaborative process cannot eliminate concerns about the disharmony that led to divorce or the dispute being addressed. However, each participant is expected to treat the other with respect, and to listen to the other’s perspective, interests and concerns. This sometimes requires that clients let go of the past in order to focus on the future.
Collaboration requires each client and each professional to take a reasoned position on all issues. Where positions differ, everyone uses their best efforts to create proposals that meet the fundamental needs of both clients, and, if necessary, to compromise to reach a settlement on all issues. This process encourages creative solutions that are not available in court, and lets you control the outcome so important family decisions are not left to someone who doesn’t know you or understand your family.
The goal is to preserve the relationship between clients and within the family by creating a respectful environment that sets the tone for open communication and reduced conflict in the future. Each client makes a commitment to find a way to resolve the disputed issues in a manner that is also acceptable to the other, even if the process of doing so is difficult. What clients can realistically hope to do is trade the antagonistic feelings that result from a divorce or other family law battle, for a genuine sense of resolution.
If children are involved, parents, attorneys and any counselors or child specialists commit to reaching amicable resolutions to issues that promote the best interests of the children and the family as a whole. Parents commit to making an effort to insulate children from involvement in the parents’ disputes, and to encouraging a caring, loving and involved relationship between the children and the other parent.
The collaboration process provides an opportunity for clients to reach a resolution with enhanced understanding, respect, and continued cooperation in child-raising.