Collaborative Law Approach

90-95% percent of all cases eventually settle out of court before trial. Many reach settlement only after years of financially and emotionally draining adversarial negotiation and trial preparation.

Collaborative Law -- the practice of settling cases without court intervention -- provides an alternative.

By encouraging mature, cooperative and non-combative behavior and agreeing to avoid litigation, an environment is created where both parties and counsel are committed to reaching an efficient, mutually agreeable settlement -- out of court. In my humble opinion, this is the way it should be. We don't raise children in courtrooms and the litigation process is anything but "child friendly."

Collaborative lawyers are often very experienced and seasoned attorneys who have done litigation for a number of years and who have seen the light and want to offer a better way for their clients to resolve their family law disputes. This however is not always the case and many collaborative law attorneys have not been litigation attorneys and in some ways I personally believe that this puts them at a disadvantage in cases that are on the more contentious side of the equation. However, that is only my opinion.

To see if the collaborative law approach is right for you, visit www.collaborativepractice.com.

Protect Privacy and Dignity

Lawyers who practice collaborative law protect the privacy and dignity of all involved in the process. They uphold standards of integrity and, if inconsistencies and miscalculations occur, seek to correct them.

Collaborative law practitioners expend as much effort working toward settlement of your case as they would to prepare for and conduct a trial. As needed, they provide complete, honest and open disclosure of all relevant information with the required oaths and documentation. Usually, however, they do this without formal proceedings. If an impasse arises, they may suggest that you bring in a neutral third party as a mediator.

Both Lawyers Are Prohibited From Taking the Case to Court

As in traditional divorce cases, your lawyer supports you and your spouse's lawyer supports your spouse. But in collaborative family law, both lawyers must also practice collaborative law. Before the process begins, all of you -- lawyers and clients-- formally contract to work together to resolve your divorce issues. Both lawyers are then, by agreement, forbidden to take the case to court. In other words, all efforts are aimed at settlement and because of the full disclosure and mediation like methods utilized, if the parties later chose to "fight it out" in court, they will need to retain a new set of attorneys for litigation purposes. This provides incredible incentive to stay committed to reaching agreements and settling important issues.

Meetings Promote Communication and Cooperation

To reach a settlement using collaborative law, the lawyers initiate four-way meetings between themselves and their clients. The meetings promote improved communications and cooperation and nourish an environment that fosters analysis and reasoning. This helps generate options and creates a positive context for settlement while giving both parties control over the outcome. The commitment to continued cooperation even if communication becomes difficult -- also increases the likelihood of a solution where everybody wins.

Focus on Mutually Agreed Upon Settlement

Collaborative family law focuses on all involved parties reaching a mutually agreed upon settlement of their disputes. The process results in valuable benefits.

It creates a cooperative environment where communication remains open, which provides a setting where you can work with your spouse to meet your children's needs -- regardless of their ages. That helps set a tone for open communication and reduced conflict in the future.

It establishes a team instead of adversaries. Your lawyer supports you; your spouse's lawyer supports your spouse. But, you all work together and in doing so, retain control of the process.

In matters requiring expert opinions, both parties can jointly hire one independent consultant. That helps shorten the duration of the case and reduce the overall expense.

You and your spouse shape the agreement together -- which means you both are more likely to keep them. That diminishes the parental conflict the adversarial system generates and helps protect children from facing the anguish and divided loyalties that result.

You can schedule meetings without waiting for court dates. That means you generally spend less time and, as a result, less money to reach closure. It also means you reduce the fear and anxiety associated with court proceedings.

Your issues stay within the collaborative law setting. That gives more privacy and greater confidentially -- and less stress during an already stressful time.

There are many similarities between mediation and collaborative law. The short version is that a mediator, who may or may not be an attorney, acts as a neutral third party in assisting the parties in guided discussions without taking sides or advocating for either party. The mediator will help facilitate in the parties coming up with options and possible solutions to the issues presented. The mediator will not give you legal advice and will generally provide a memorandum of understanding (a tentative agreement of sorts) and suggest that each party have it reviewed by his or her own attorney before signing off on a final agreement.

In a collaborative law approach each participant has his or her own specially trained collaborative attorney at his or her side throughout the process. The goal is to reach a detailed and comprehensive signed and binding agreement. The parties and their attorneys sign a participation agreement at the outset, which is the cornerstone of the collaborative process. The parties pledge not to take the case to court for any contested issues and all work together to find "acceptable solutions" for all concerned. While your lawyer is there to advocate on your behalf, it is much different than the traditional, "scorched earth - winner take all" litigation approach that often wreaks havoc on families for years and years. Almost all settlement discussions take place in an open format with the parties and counsel present.

In the collaborative team approach the parties with the assistance of their attorneys will jointly select other collaboratively trained professionals like financial specialists, child specialists, divorce coaches, parent coordinators, accountants, appraisers and the like. Even a full team approach is often far less expensive than resolving a case through contested litigation. Most importantly, you own the outcome and retain the control over what happens to you and your family and that is truly priceless!

For all you need to know about the Collaborative Process visit the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals at www.collaborativepractice.com.

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