Divorce throws life’s foundations into turmoil. Suddenly, high stakes issues exist in almost every arena: financial, legal and emotional. This creates a “perfect storm” that can cause the couple’s conflict to rage out of control. In this tempest, it becomes difficult to make the good decisions that are the heart of a carefully crafted settlement. People who are understandably uncomfortable with the stress and tension of divorce may rush into settlement just to reduce the conflict. Eventually, however, they may live to regret their hastily made decisions.
If you are like many people facing divorce, you hope to reach an amicable settlement and avoid a bitter and costly battle. Your divorce settlement, however, will impact your financial well-being and that of your children for many years to come. Therefore, you must achieve not just any settlement but one that truly meets your needs and those of your children. A new process called Collaborative Law may be just what you need. The solution offered by Collaborative Law is a multi-part program designed to help people build good decisions that will allow their lives to work well after divorce.
What is Collaborative Law? How Does it Work?
Collaborative Law is a way to achieve sound settlement of serious issues such as divorce. Because it focuses on a “win – win” approach rather than an “I win – you lose” approach, the Collaborative method is especially well suited to situations where ongoing relationships may be involved. For this reason, the method also is used to solve other problems, such as labor and business disputes.
The Collaborative method works via a series of private and confidential meetings in which the couple and their professional advisors discuss the concerns, gather information and develop options. Then, they negotiate an optimal arrangement that meets the needs of both parties. The resulting agreement becomes a legally binding contract that is approved by the court. For an average family, four to six meetings may be needed, although the total will depend on the number of issues the couple needs to address.
Who are the Collaborative Practice Advisors?
The Collaborative Practice Advisors who participate in the process include:
- A neutral financial consultant who reviews assets and income and helps develop viable financial options for both spouses
- A family relationship specialist who helps the couple manage the pain of their changing relationship and helps them maintain a focus on present and future goals
- Legal counsel for each spouse to advise them on all matters of law, from child custody and support to spousal maintenance to property distribution
- A child development specialist who helps children make healthy adjustments to the changes in their family
All of these professionals work together toward the same goal: to help the couple clarify each person’s goals, develop multiple options, and develop solutions that work well for all. The result is constructively managed change. If the couple needs to continue to work together (as parents to their children, for example), they will be able to do so with much less friction.
Other Aspects of Collaborative Law
- The collaborative process is voluntary and both spouses must agree to use the process
- All proceedings are confidential and take place outside of court
- Full disclosure of assets, obligations and incomes is required
- The focus is on forging a settlement that meets the future needs of both parties and the children, rather than assigning blame
- Both parties always retain the right to go to court if the process ends without agreement
- Attorneys and other professionals who work with the couple collaboratively may not later switch into litigation roles in the matter. If the case goes to court, parties may represent themselves or hire attorneys, however, the collaborative attorneys and other collaborative experts may not participate in the litigation.
Why Collaborative Law?
This multi-part approach was developed because divorce statistics proved again and again that legal agreements alone were difficult to achieve and often did not end the family conflict. People complained of settlements being reached hastily on the courthouse steps on the eve of trial. Judges experienced cases returning to court again and again. Particularly troubling were the on-going struggles over parenting conflicts. Many family law judges, attorneys and psychologists became convinced that there must be a better way to help families through divorce.
Guest Author Donna Beck Weaver is a Certified Specialist in Family Law, State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization with 30 years of experience. Ms. Weaver is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association (LACFLA), a Board member of the International Academy of Collaborative Practitioners (IACP) and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Ms. Weaver was named a Super-Lawyer of Southern California for the past two years and her practice is located in Santa Monica, California.