Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Would You Describe Collaborative Law?

Some people who are about to go through a divorce (or other family law controversy) are able to take a little time and investigate what is ahead of them. Some focus on information about how to go to court and assume that it is the only alternative. Others try to imagine how they would like to deal with the legal issues and then look around to find out if that is possible. Of the former group, some get lucky and find out about various alternatives. Others get ensnared in the legal system without knowing that there are various approaches that can be used, depending on the circumstances of the case.

For those who approach the investigation with an open mind and some curiosity, here are some descriptive terms that can lead to consideration of Collaborative Law as the preferred option.

  • Civilized. Having peaceful discussions, assisted by trained professionals, can be a much more effective means to reach a mutually agreeable solution than going to court and hurling charges at each other.
  • Friendly. While not all Collaborative parties remain friendly, there is certainly a better chance that it will happen in the environment of joint meetings, especially when a trained, neutral therapist is working on the case.
  • Private. Instead of filing charges and making demands in public documents and testifying in an open courtroom, Collaborative cases provide a private venue where the parties talk and work in the privacy of their attorneys' or other professionals' offices.
  • Maintaining control over the process. In a Collaborative case, the parties determine the issues and schedule. In litigation, there are often court-imposed deadlines and schedules.
  • Making your own decisions. Collaborative case depend on the parties to ultimately reach their own decisions instead of turning the issues over to a judge who often knows little about the case.
  • Saving money. While it cannot be said that Collaborative Law is cheap, it is true that the process saves money in several ways by, among other reasons: using joint, neutral experts; avoiding the tedious and expensive written discovery process; and not having to wait for judges and others at the courthouse, as often happens.
  • Less stressful. In Texas, we usually hire a neutral therapist to work with both parties and assist them in communicating more effectively, as well as managing stress. In addition, not facing the courtroom and trials (or hearings) is a great stress reliever.
  • Use of neutral experts. Collaborative attorneys normally hire joint, neutral experts for financial issues, appraisals, psychological issues and other matters.That produces greater confidence in their advise and avoids a battle of experts that often happens in litigation cases.
  • Cooperation. The Collaborative process depends on cooperation and the attorneys work to educate and screen prospective clients before starting the process to make sure they will be cooperative.
  • Face-to-face discussions. Instead to turning issues over to a judge or having discussions filtered through the attorneys, Collaborative cases progress by having the parties and their attorneys (and usually the mental health professional) have direct discussions.
  • Full disclosure. Although non-Collaboratively trained people sometimes doubt it, the process does provide for full disclosure of all relevant information. Requested information is frequently withheld in litigated cases, and Collaborative cases ultimately have the same safeguards as litigation cases. But Collaborative cases also have an additional layer of protection built in with the work of the neutral financial professional (FP) who reviews and evaluates the financial information provided. The FP will request additional information whenever he or she notices something is missing. That protection is not normally present in a litigated case.
  • Customized. Instead of relying on standard formulas for child support or property division or standard schedules for visitation, Collaborative cases encourage the parties to think outside the box and come up with creative new solutions.
  • Voluntary. If both parties agree to try Collaborative Law, they can do so. If either one doesn't want to do it, then they won't. It can't be forced on anyone.
People facing legal action in family law matters should research their options and make an informed decision about how to best proceed. One way to do so is to do an Internet search using the above terms along with "divorce" or "child support" or "child custody" or other such issue. It would also be wise to meet with a trained, active Collaborative lawyer to fully consider whether Collaborative Law would be appropriate for their situation.