Frequently Asked Questions
What is Collaborative Family Law?
Collaborative Family Law is a process where each spouse retains a lawyer who is trained in and specializes in collaborative practice. At the outset, the parties and attorneys sign an agreement stating that they will not go to court or threaten to go court during the collaborative process. All energy will be directed to reaching a comprehensive settlement that is acceptable to both parties. When an agreement is reached, the attorneys formalize the understanding in writing and file an uncontested divorce on behalf of the parties.
How is Participating in Collaborative Law Different Than Hiring An Attorney and Telling That Attorney to Settle The Matter Out Of Court?
In the collaborative process, most of the negotiations take place at meetings with both clients and both attorneys present. These meetings are referred to as Four Way Meetings. The issues, such as division of property, child support and parenting, are discussed openly in an atmosphere that encourages creative problem solving and often leads to flexible solutions which could not be achieved in court. Clients consult in private with their respective attorney before and after Four Way Meetings. This format enables the parties to communicate directly, while having their advocate at their side.
When attorneys who are not part of a formal collaborative process attempt to negotiate a settlement there is always an underlying threat that if one party is unhappy with how the negotiations are proceeding, they will go to court. This threat, even where not directly articulated changes the entire tone of the negotiation. Collaborative practitioners are trained in techniques to redirect the negotiation and move the parties toward a resolution without resorting to the threat of litigation.
What is the Interdisciplinary Practice of Collaborative Law?
In order to reach a legal settlement, often financial, emotional and parenting issues must be addressed. Neutral financial and/or mental health professionals can be retained to participate in the process if the parties and lawyers feel it might be helpful. For example, if how to share time with the children cannot be easily agreed upon, a neutral parenting coach can help parents plan a schedule that addresses their needs as well of those of the children. There are many financial and mental health professionals who are familiar with the collaborative process and routinely work with collaborative lawyers.
What Happens if an Agreement Cannot Be Reached?
If an agreement cannot be reached, the process is terminated and each party hires a new lawyer to represent them in litigation. The fact that the collaborative lawyers cannot represent their clients in litigation creates an additional incentive for the lawyers to work very hard to help the parties find a mutually acceptable resolution.