Everyone knows someone who has gone through a divorce and most would say it was not a pleasant experience. It does not have to be. What if the spouses, with the assistance of two collaboratively trained lawyers, were empowered to settle their divorce out of court creating an outcome that they both walk away feeling okay about rather than a judge telling them what they are getting? Well, it is a possibility now.
Collaborative Law is a relatively new area of law which has been primarily used in Family Law cases but is gaining steam in other areas of law like Employment Law, Estate Planning and Civil Litigation.
What is the "Collaborative Process?" The Collaborative Process focuses on the needs and goals of the clients and the preservation of relationships among family members or business associates. This can work quite well in divorce situations where the spouses do not wish to battle it out in court, as they recognize not only the potential financial consequences of doing so but the emotional toll litigation can take on a person. Parties who participate in the Process are typically interested in preserving the relationship with their spouse in the future if they have children together or a close knit family so that they are able to effectively co-parent their children. However, you do not have to have children to participate. In fact, those parties may choose the Process for a variety of other reasons which may include avoiding the game playing that often occurs in litigation and the potentially high legal bills involved in going to court. Rather, settling highly emotional issues such as custody, division of the marital estate and alimony in a calm and respectful environment is preferable.
What is involved in the Process? The first hurdle is that both spouses must retain collaboratively trained attorneys. At the first meeting, both parties and their attorneys sign a Participation Agreement, wherein they all agree to adhere to the principles of Collaborative Law. The most important consideration when signing this Agreement is to understand that should either spouse reach an impasse during the Process, the process would terminate, both attorneys have to withdraw, and the parties must retain new attorneys and proceed to litigation.
In a nutshell, during the process we have a series of meetings at the respective attorneys' offices wherein we gather information, explore settlement options, test consequences and in the end fashion a mutually satisfying binding settlement and obtain a divorce decree. During the process, we establish goals and use interest based negotiations in order to get to a settlement rather than taking positions which can often lead to impasse.