Collaborative Family Law is a process that seems to be becoming more popular, as people look for ways to handle divorce and other family law cases that are less adversarial and less expensive than traditional litigation.
In a collaborative divorce case, both parties and their attorneys agree to work through and settle the case outside of court, without litigation, with the help of whatever financial advisors or other experts are needed in the case. There are some variations in how a collaborative divorce can proceed. Usually settlement is handed in meetings among all the parties, attorneys and any experts, or the process can move forward via introductory meetings and then more informal negotiations. Typically, the parties to the case would agree, for example, on one accountant to use, rather than each hiring their own. Sometimes as part of the process, a counselor or therapist will be involved with the case from the beginning to help assess what is going on, and help everyone move the process forward in a positive way. There are collaborative family law networks in each county, which tend to set up their own operating procedures among the members of the network.
The process is voluntary for the clients, i.e. they can decide that the process is not working and choose to end it and proceed with litigation, but as part of the agreement everyone signs at the beginning, both attorneys would be required to withdraw from the case and help the parties find new attorneys. Neither attorney who participated in the collaborative divorce process could represent a party in the litigation.
The idea behind this approach is that both parties and the attorneys commit to trying to work things out, outside of court. One potential advantage of a collaborative divorce as compared to litigation, is that the parties don't have the imminent risk hanging over their heads of what may or may not happen in court. There's a possible costs savings, because the attorneys and clients don't have to go through the formal process of discovery that has to happen in most family law cases and there aren't the court pleadings to prepare or the types of work attorneys need to do in litigated cases to prepare or position the case for any hearings and for trial. Also, the process is designed to be and should be less adversarial than litigation.
One significant difference between collaborative family law and mediation is that a collaborative family law case tends to be a less condensed process, e.g. instead of resolving the case all at once in 1 to 3 mediation sessions, you'll most likely have more time to address the issues and make decisions with your attorney. You can also generally arrive at a more thorough settlement agreement that what you'll get through mediation.
There are potential disadvantages to a collaborative divorce, however. It can be much more expensive than mediation. There are multiple attorneys and experts involved, in negotiations than can go on for a while. If the process breaks down, the parties have to start over with new attorneys if they want to litigate, and if one accountant, valuation expert, etc. has been retained, both parties would most likely need to hire new experts, also an additional expense. If one party is not being reasonable, isn't voluntarily providing financial disclosure, etc., there is no ready access to the courts or an immediate threat of court action as there is in litigation, although even if you have already filed a court case, there can be a delay in getting a hearing date. If the person on the other side isn't participating in good faith - for example using the process to drag things out, it's going to be difficult, but that is something that should be able to be noticed fairly easily.
It seems important in deciding to embark on a collaborative divorce, to choose an attorney who is part of a collaborative family law network with well established procedures, and positive, skilled members in the group. If you run into difficult spots in the negotiations, the skill, experience, and, for lack of a better phrase, positive energy of the people on your collaborative family law team of professionals may be what will carry you through.
Call me at (954) 636-7498 or use the contact form on the website, and we can discuss Collaborative Family Law.
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