What Is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative Law can mean amicable divorce

Did you know there is an alternative to the traditional divorce litigation process? It is called Collaborative Law.

Let’s face it…No one wants to go through a divorce. Unfortunately, sometimes life does not happen as planned. Public perception regarding divorce is far from positive. This is due in part to the length and cost of the process, the need for each spouse to be in control of their impending futures as separate entities, and the inherent nature of the litigation process being unnecessarily adversarial. Not only is the process difficult to go through in the moment, but the emotional and financial effects are often felt long after the divorce is complete.

What Is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative Law is an alternative dispute resolution process in which divorcing couples work together with specially trained attorneys to resolve disputes amicably, without ever going to Court. The process can also incorporate the use of trained child specialists, counselors, divorce coaches and financial professionals who all work together to help achieve the priorities and goals set by both spouses. Collaborative Divorce seeks to support families in transition, instead of devastating them.

How Does Collaborative Law Work?

The goal of Collaborative Law is to reach a mutually agreeable settlement, in an atmosphere of respect. Issues of divorce, property distribution, custody, support and pre-nuptial/post-nuptial agreements, can all be handled collaboratively. Each spouse is represented by their own Collaboratively trained attorney. Attorneys are bound by their traditional ethical duties to be an advocate for their own client. However, instead of attorneys fighting against each other, attorneys are negotiation facilitators, whereby they guide their clients to work together to identify interests and generate options, so that both spouses can meet their individual goals. It is a transparent process, meaning that both parties are expected to be open and honest. Relevant and pertinent information regarding the parties’ assets must be disclosed.

In the beginning of the case, the divorcing couple and their attorneys sign a document called a Participation Agreement, which sets the ground rules for a Collaborative divorce. Everyone is expected to be respectful to one another, as it is of the utmost importance to create a safe atmosphere where each spouse can freely express themselves. The Participation Agreement prohibits litigation in Court, but should the process break down, and one or both of the spouses decide to litigate, both attorneys must cease representation of their respective clients and both spouses must obtain new counsel. This may seem risky, and to some extent there is some risk, however, eliminating the threat of court action and positional bargaining tactics is what preserves the integrity of the process, and makes it more effective and successful.

The process takes place in a series of orchestrated settlement meetings, during which time the divorcing couple and their attorneys work together to prioritize interests, gather relevant factual information to make informed decisions, and creatively resolve conflicts. The parties maintain control of the divorce process without leaving matters of utmost concern and importance to the Courts. Open communication between the spouses, with full disclosure, allows both to plan for the future, through a mutual problem-solving approach.

What Are The Advantages Of A Collaborative Divorce Over A Litigated Divorce?

1. The team approach helps the divorcing couple identify the problems that need to be solved, and prioritizes them so that the most important matters can be addressed first and in a prompt manner.

2. There is personal ownership over the process and final agreement, instead of allowing Judges or attorneys to dictate outcomes of important life decisions. Most couples leave the process feeling more satisfied with the final outcome, because they were engaged as an active participant in creating an agreement which uniquely meets their specific needs. Creative solutions to complex problems can be achieved.

3. You set the pace of the process, instead of being bound by the Court’s schedule. The Court process often takes 2 to 3 years or more, whereas Collaborative cases can be completed in a matter of months.

4. If you have children, the process intends to preserve relationships and promotes more effective co-parenting. Children are shielded from Court appearances and the general stress of litigation.

5. You maintain your privacy. Your most private and personal information remains protected and confidential through a Collaborative divorce.

6. It can cost less than a litigated divorce. Although each spouse will need to retain their own Collaboratively trained attorney, and pay normal attorney hourly rates, because of open disclosure, less letter writing and phone calling, minimal pleading drafting and no Court appearances, you can save money by working more efficiently.

Is A Collaborative Divorce Right For You?

It most certainly could be! Although Collaborative Divorce is not appropriate for every case, (such as matters which involve domestic violence), in many instances, it is a viable option which should be explored and considered by both spouses.  It is not necessary for you and your spouse to have a good relationship with one another, but you do need to share a common goal of wanting to resolve your disputes respectfully, even though you may disagree with one another. If you want to focus on your future and create a smoother transition into the next stage of your life, a Collaborative Divorce may be right for you.

Liberty J. Weyandt, Esquire leads the Family Law Practice at The Lynch Law Group. She is dedicated to assisting clients who are seeking solutions to complex family law matters. Please contact Liberty at (724) 776-8000 or lweyandt@lynchlaw-group.com for more information about Collaborative Law or for information on other family law matters.
You can also learn more about Collaborative Law through the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) at www.collaborativepractice.com and The Collaborative Law Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania at www.clasplaw.org.
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