In November, I attended the Basic Collaborative Team Training. I came away from the training excited about this relatively new approach to help clients resolve their differences.
Collaborative Law is an approach to conflict resolution which seeks to avoid the emotional and financial costs of litigation while giving each party the maximum information and input needed to reach an agreement. In a nutshell, the collaborative process begins once the parties have signed a collaborative agreement. That agreement usually dictates that both parties give full disclosure of relevant information. Each party is represented by his or her own respective lawyer. The parties can also choose to bring in neutral mental health and financial professionals for their benefit and the benefit of their children.
If the collaborative process breaks down and the parties are unable to reach agreement, then none of the lawyers, mental health professionals, or financial professionals involved in collaboration can be involved in the resulting litigation. The collaborative agreement clearly states this. This restriction helps keep the parties committed to the process and helps to avoid the bad faith use of the collaborative process.
The collaborative process has some benefits over the traditional approaches to divorce, custody, visitation, and support disputes. While the initial financial investment might be higher, the overall financial investment tends to decrease as the process plays out. This is because the neutral professionals help avoid much of the duplicative, conflicting work that is done in litigation. Additionally, the neutral assistance earlier in the process often can help parties identify and resolve issues early in the process which might complicate matters in litigation or traditional negotiation. Like other methods of alternative dispute resolution, the collaborative approach allows the parties to craft their own solution which tends to result in better adherence to and satisfaction with the agreement. The collaborative approach also allows for privacy which often will be to the benefit of the entire family involved in the dispute.
The collaborative process is not the best approach for every case. However, it is an alternative which would benefit many families. Every person facing a divorce, custody, visitation, or support dispute should discuss with an attorney whether the collaborative process makes sense for their circumstances.