As in traditional family law/divorce cases, your lawyer supports only you and your spouse’s lawyer supports only your spouse. In the collaborative process, both lawyers are trained to consider the other parties’ perspective in order to help both of you reach agreements that accomplish the goals of both parties and preserve the welfare of the entire family.
Collaborative practitioners work as part of an inter-disciplinary network of professionals to provide expertise and advice on issues relevant to the ultimate settlement of the case.
Before the process begins, the lawyers and clients formally contract to work together to resolve the issues of the case. Both lawyers contract not to take the case to court. They sign a contract titled “Participation Agreement”. In traditional litigation the divorce process begins with the filing of a lawsuit. The collaborative process begins with the signing of the Participation Agreement.
The parties also sign a document “Statement of Understanding Among Team Members”. This document contains the commitment of the professionals and the parties to work together as a team with the common goal of resolution of all issues in a way that best meets the needs of all involved.
The collaborative process differs significantly from the traditional litigation process. After both parties have each retained their collaborative lawyer, the lawyers contact one another to “triage” the case. The lawyers immediately begin to address the needs of their clients by discussing their clients’ needs and desires with the other lawyer. The lawyers schedule an initial 4 way meeting which includes both lawyers and both parties. An agenda that outlines the items that will be discussed at the first meeting is sent to both parties. Any pressing issues will be covered in that first meeting, after the required participation agreements are signed.
At the first meeting, the parties will also identify the other professionals with whom they will be working. The other professionals include coaches, a child specialist if children are involved and a single financial neutral.
The collaborative process begins only with the signing of the Participation Agreement and Statement of Understanding by the attorneys and parties at their first 4 way meeting. After that first meeting, depending on the needs and desires of the parties, they may work with their coaches, the child specialist and/or the financial neutral before seeing their attorneys again. In this way, costs are minimized as the professional with the appropriate expertise deals with their particular area. For example, the coaches will help the parties address their communication issues in order to assist them in creating a parenting plan for their children. The child specialist will hear from the children and offer feedback to the coaches and parties to insure that the children’s developmental needs are considered. The financial neutral will gather information from the parties and work with them and the attorneys to craft a financial plan based on a realistic financial picture.
The meetings in the collaborative process promote improved communication and cooperation. The collaborative environment is one that fosters informed analysis and reasoning. In the process, the professionals and parties generate options and create a positive context for settlement. The parties always retain control over their outcome. The commitment to continued cooperation, even if communication becomes difficult, increases the likelihood of a solution that builds a foundation for the future of the family even as the parents begin separate lives.
Ultimately, once all issues are resolved, the attorneys draft a settlement agreement and the pleadings necessary to obtain a divorce. The pleadings are filed jointly and indicate to the court that the parties have reached an agreement through the collaborative process. If possible, the attorneys file a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, a document which allows a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce to be granted by the court without the necessity of a court appearance. If the court will not grant a final divorce in that manner, one or both of the parties will appear in court for the short amount of time it takes for the court to accept their settlement agreement and grant them a final divorce.