The words “collaborative law” refer to a dispute resolution process in which the parties agree in writing to settle their legal dispute without going to court or even the threat of going to court. It is not limited to family law cases although you will sometimes see the process called “collaborative divorce.” If either party goes to court to ask a judge to resolve their dispute, both attorneys must withdraw from representing their respective clients. Each party must then either represent themselves at court or hire a new attorney. The process does not deny either party their right to go to court, it simply requires that the parties hire new attorneys or represent themselves if either party goes to court.
The process itself is controlled. The parties reach a settlement in face-to-face meetings. All parties and their attorneys are present during the meetings. If a mental health professional or financial professional is needed, they may also be present during a meeting. The parties control when the meetings are scheduled and how long they last. Typically, an agenda is discussed and drafted prior to each meeting to limit surprises and notes are generated at the end of each meeting describing what happened. Each party has an attorney who has been trained in the collaborative law process and each attorney is free to provide legal advice and guidance to their client during the process.
There are many benefits to resolving disputes using the collaborative law process which include, among other things, the following:
- The parties control the outcome, not a court.
- Each party has the benefit of counsel during the process.
- The process is private, and not part of the court record.
- The process can be less expensive.
- The focus is the future, not trying to defeat the other party using the past.
- Information and documents are freely exchanged.
- The process is usually more amicable, so it is less likely to affect outside parties.
- Communications are direct which can limit miscommunications.
There are also risks in using the collaborative law process which include, among other things, the following:
- The other party can cause you to lose your attorney by going to court. However, the other party will lose their attorney also.
- The meetings to settle the case are face-to-face with all parties and attorneys present. This can be uncomfortable, but probably not as uncomfortable as sitting in a deposition or being cross-examined in court.
- Because communications are direct, you may disclose information during the meetings you would not disclose in litigation.
- The process can be more expensive if one party goes to court and you have to hire a new attorney. However, although this does happen, it is not very frequent.
There is much more to the collaborative law process than can be described in this limited space. Please feel free to contact my firm via email or by telephone to schedule an appointment to discuss this option further.