Collaborative Law

Collaborative Law is the no-court solution to family law disputes which encourages parties to negotiate in a safe, respectful environment despite their hurt feelings, anger and distrust.  In this process, the parties remain in control of the timetable and the outcome.  The parties are assisted in identifying and protecting those things most important to them and crafting an agreement which is uniquely theirs, not something imposed by a disinterested court.

Collaborative Law is like going to a seminar on a new subject from which it is suggested that upon successful completion you will take away skills which will serve you, your family and your community well for the rest of your life.  You do not spend the first hour of the seminar telling the course director what the last hour of the seminar is going to be like or what you are going to take away from the seminar.  Instead, you start with the assumption that you are there because you do not know everything (or possibly anything) about the subject and that you are there to go through the steps of learning so that you can walk away with something that is useful to you for the rest of your life.  You commit to going through the steps in an orderly fashion so that you can take away the highest and best the course has to offer. 

Collaborative Law is much the same.  It is a prescribed series of steps.  Its parts cannot be taken out of order or skipped without losing some of its ultimate value for which you are paying your hard-earned money.  Like any seminar, some parts are interesting, some boring, some painfully difficult.  But, to get the value out of the course, you must commit to endure and even embrace each step to achieve the goal, which in the case of Collaborative Law is divorce with dignity, and, where there are children, a restructuring of the family into an effective co-parenting unit in which the children can thrive despite the dissolution of the legal status.


I know, its supposed to be the “top 10", but for the sake of brevity, we will stick with five because, these five are the opposites of the litigation process:

5. Cuts down on duplication of work done by attorneys and experts, leading to a significant savings of money!

One of the things I pointed out about the litigation model was that at all times, two attorneys were doing the same work at the same time and each charging by the hour to do that work.  That is a huge expense.  In the Collaborative Law process, this duplication can be cut by at least 50% or more because of the narrowing of the scope of investigation and the ability of each attorney to obtain information directly from both parties in informal discussion without the resort to expensive discovery tools.  The use of jointly retained, neutral experts obviously cuts down on costs; but, there is another aspect to this element which is not apparent to the layperson.  One neutral expert can sometimes do either the gathering and/or analysis of information at an hourly rate which is less than either attorney’s hourly rate.  A well-qualified expert might, for instance, analyze investment information or financial planning options for the couple and make a presentation to the attorneys and the parties at a four-way session, thereby eliminating hours of work by both attorneys.  This is not to suggest that attorneys would abdicate their ultimate investigative or analytical responsibilities, but this technique can diminish the time necessary to reach a conclusion.  That leaves more money in the estate for the parties to divide.

4. Promotes effective communication!

In order to come to an agreement into which both parties are willing to enter, there must be some “serious talking.”  Whatever communication problems existed before the decision to divorce was made, the parties will necessarily have to overcome a significant number of them to attain the goal. This will require courage on the part of the spouses because anger, fear and resentment will inevitably surface during the four-way sessions.  It is the job of the attorneys to provide the spouses a safe environment in which to air all of these emotions while at the same time preventing the spouses from slipping into old, comfortable, but usually counter-productive, communication habits.  Collaborative lawyers are trained to use open-ended questions which can instantaneously refocus the parties from dwelling on past hurts back to expressing their views and concerns about the future.  During the several four-way sessions where these techniques are used, the parties begin to pick up skills which they take with them into the post-divorce family structure.

3. “Ac-cen-tu-ates the Positive, E-lim-I-nates the Negative, and Doesn’t Mess With Mr. In-Be-tween”

One of the points highlighted in the discourse on litigation above was the impact upon each party of dwelling upon the past and focusing on the negative behaviors and traits of the opposing party throughout the divorce process.  Litigants rarely overcome the impact of participating in this backward-looking and exaggerating process or being the recipient of its focus.  Because this technique is actively and forcefully discouraged by the collaboratively trained attorneys, the parties never get very far down this slippery slop to emotional disaster before it is curtailed.  This is not to say that a collaborative divorce is not painful or that there is no emotional aftermath.  But, because the parties are required to conduct themselves in a dignified and respectful manner even during moments of high tension and because they have the assistance of their collaboratively trained attorneys to enforce the rules of behavior during these emotionally charged periods, the parties do not have to contend, in addition to the pain occasioned by the loss of the relationship, with post-divorce embarrassment of having engaged in deplorable, disrespectful conduct or of being its recipient.  There is much to be said for leaving any bad situation with one’s head held high and the sure belief that one was treated fairly and with respect.  Because the attorneys are required to work together to identify the emotional traps set by the party’s old communication style and help the spouses avoid them during negotiation, each spouse’s energy is preserved for resolution of important future issues rather than dissipated in tautological (cat-chasing-the-tail) arguments and baseless or hopelessly distorted and exaggerated accusations hurled in the heat of passion.

2. Post-Divorce Family Integrity

Having avoided the financial drain of litigation, which in its own right tends to raise the fear level of litigants, having possibly been exposed to better methods of communication with the now-former spouse and having avoided the great “Negative Abyss” of trial, the parties and their children have a more positive attitude toward the construction of a post-divorce family and their place in it.  This is, obviously, critical where there are children. 


And the Number One biggest advantage of the Collaborative Law process is that people are far more likely to adhere to an agreement which they had a personal role in building than one imposed upon them by a Judge, Jury or Mediator.  Having been treated with respect during the course of the negotiation and having left the process with a sense of personal dignity and self-respect (and, maybe, even some newfound respect for or understanding of the other party), each party is far more likely to personally “own” the agreement and behave toward the agreement with a high degree of integrity.


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