After many years of practicing matrimonial and family law, we are convinced that many divorces are turned into bad divorces by the very nature of the legal system. In the court system, parties are presumed to be on opposite sides and often see litigation as a competition, with a resulting loss of communication and cooperation. In the court system, family members make hurtful claims against one another and expose private details. Further, an adversarial court system encourages them to give up responsibility for family decision-making to their attorneys and to the court. Thus, litigants can lose sight of the reality that most family members involved have common goals. When the court case is over, the litigants have not learned to respect one another or work together and sometimes instead continue to disparage one another and fight.
Collaborative law is the practice and art of settling these cases with legal counsel but without court intervention or positional bargaining. Instead, attorneys help clients identify and communicate their financial, emotional, and family interests so that they reach the optimal result. Attorneys and parties protect the children as much as possible from the adult issues so that the effect on the children is minimized. All negotiations take place in four-way conferences between the parties and their attorneys, who all sign a commitment to work together to reach a satisfactory agreement without the court system. If later the clients decide to withdraw from this agreement, they must start the litigation with a new attorney. The Collaborative Law approach results in the clients developing solutions themselves and encourages the attorneys involved to promote a non-litigated solution.
The collaborative idea also includes the involvement of other specialists. Child specialists, accountants or financial planners can help educate the spouses and coordinate their efforts with the collaborative law attorneys. In each case where such a specialist is appropriate, the parties agree on one neutral professional, which reduces the cost compared to the traditional approach where each party finds separate evaluators.
The collaborative process relies on an atmosphere of honesty, integrity, cooperation, and professionalism. The parties retain trained Collaborative Law attorneys to assist them through this process. The spouses/parents are encouraged to work honestly, cooperatively, and practically to create a settlement that meets their and their children’s needs and is a cheaper and expedited solution for everyone.