Collaborative law is a new, innovative way to settle family law issues without enduring the expenses and stress associated with litigation and court-ordered mediation. By removing the adversarial nature of court-related proceedings, parties are able to address family related issues through a voluntary and structured approach built on the principles of cooperation, honesty, and respect. Through this process, lawyers represent both sides to ensure proper legal assistance without going to court.
The collaborative law process begins when each party is represented by a lawyer whose representation will terminate if the situation evolves into a contested court proceeding. The parties and their lawyers will then enter into a “Participation Agreement.” Generally this agreement will state:
- The issues to be resolved;
- Settlement will be resolved in a non-adversarial manner;
- All communications will be conducted with mutual respect without taking advantage of errors made by the other party;
- If a settlement is not reached, the lawyers will withdraw from the process and will not participate in litigation;
- The parties will rely on their lawyers for assistance;
- The parties will promote their children’s best interests and minimize any emotional damage through respect for the children’s relationships with the other party;
- Jointly chosen experts may be consulted;
- Reasons and procedure for ending the process.
Once legal representation is established, and the parties and their lawyers enter into the Participation Agreement, the parties and the lawyers will engage in four-way meetings to discuss and resolve the issues. The meetings allow the parties to express their own words and feelings while creatively seeking solutions. Generally, the collaborative law process ends when (1) a settlement has been reached, (2) a party terminates the process, (3) all parties reasonably believe the process has ended because a party has initiated a court proceeding related to the issues outlined in the Participation Agreement, or (4) a lawyer engaged in the collaborative law process withdraws or is otherwise unable to further represent the party.
The goal of collaborative law is for everyone to walk away with their concerns addressed, their feelings expressed and respected, and their children and other family members protected. Although any family law issue is a trying time for an individual, collaborative law provides an avenue where every party can benefit.