The Collaborative Law Process uses a team to resolve a couple’s family law matters confidentially and in private. The team consists of the couple, a collaboratively trained attorney for each person, a neutral facilitator, and a neutral financial professional.
The team explores the couple’s goals and interests and options for achieving them through informed decisions the couple, rather than a judge, makes.
In collaborative divorce, clients voluntarily handle all issues out of court: dissolving their marriage, dividing property, providing for their family’s financial support, and agreeing on children. A specially trained professional team helps the couple understand what matters most to them and create solutions that will work for the whole family.
In the collaborative process, commitment to shared experts, full disclosure, and keeping cases out of court promotes respect. This respectful relationship spares couples costly, slow, and bitter disputes. Common sense and constructive behavior in collaborative replace inflicting pain on each other and exerting power in litigated disputes.
The clients will be heard in the collaborative process, in their own voices. The team openly identifies each client’s specific needs and interests and their mutual goals. When each client shares perceptions, the team can discuss issues deeply, confidential, and constructively in collaborative conferences.
To agree on issues that meet each party’s needs and interests, the team uses problem-solving known as “interest-based negotiation.” All negotiations occur in informal meetings in a safe environment. The professionals model behavior for the clients. Threats, positioning, aggression, intimidation, and hostility aren’t permitted in the collaborative process.
The collaborative team is committed to the process and to working towards settlement. Creative energy evolves as the team works together as the collaborative process moves forward.
Here is how a typical collaborative matter proceeds. Please understand that, depending on the facts and your family’s needs, your collaborative process may be customized differently.
A collaborative matter can start in different ways, but typically starts with each client’s hiring a trained collaborative attorney. Considering professionals who’d best fit the couple’s needs, the attorneys jointly suggest a collaboratively trained neutral facilitator (typically a mental health professional) and a collaboratively trained neutral financial professional. Each client talks with the neutrals and, if both clients like them, jointly retain them. This core team guides them through the process until resolution.
Once the clients and their team sign a joint commitment to the process, known as a “Collaborative Participation Agreement,” the matter becomes a collaborative family law matter. The participation agreement provides the framework for the process. It includes the team’s commitment to full disclosure, honest and open communication, confidentiality, and to engage in no litigation during the process (If litigation is pending before the clients sign the participation agreement, they agree to suspend it).
In the Collaborative process, the clients pledge not to go to court: no hearings, no depositions, no court motions.
The clients and their team meet in group sessions. Between sessions, each client meets with their attorney and with the neutral professionals, as needed. The first meeting will be a group meeting to set ground rules, identify the clients’ goals and interests, and assign tasks for each team member.
Individual and group meetings based upon the clients’ needs take place. If there are complex finances, the neutral financial professional may do substantial initial work to gather information and sort out property and money issues. For clients with kids, the neutral facilitator may spend time working through challenges with parenting, scheduling, or other child issues.
Periodic group meetings and individual meetings continue as necessary until the clients and team explore and develop options and the clients decide on best options to resolve issues. For special issues (immigration, tax, valuation, appraisal issues, bankruptcy), the team may bring in other professionals known as allied professionals.
The attorneys prepare all the agreements needed to express the client’s decisions resolving the issues. If the clients share children, the mental health professional works with the clients and prepares the detailed parenting plan. The clients carefully review the draft documents with their attorneys to make sure the documents precisely express the clients’ final decisions. The clients sign the agreement and, if there are children, their parenting plan.
For collaboratively resolved divorces or paternity matters, one attorney typically notifies the court the clients have successfully resolved their issues and the matter proceeds to an uncontested final hearing. Some judges will allow clients to file electronically final papers and will finish the matter with no hearing. The judge must review agreements regarding the children (such as the parenting plan and agreed child support). If the judge finds the agreements to be in the children’s best interests, the judge approves them and enters a final judgment of dissolution of marriage or paternity.