What is collaborative law?
Collaborative law is a new form of dispute resolution in which both parties’ attorneys work together to create a settlement that satisfies everyone involved. What makes it unique is that the clients and
their lawyers are committed to work out an agreement — and only an
agreement — from the start; should this not happen and the parties
choose to litigate instead, both lawyers must resign from the case.
How do I know if collaborative law is right for me?
law may be right for you if you and your spouse are willing to settle
your divorce without battling it to the finish in court. It’s ideal for
you if you want to have a hand in creating a unique agreement that suits
your needs, wants, and circumstances. “If you want to have more control
over the outcome of your case — and use a process that maximizes the
chances of accomplishing your goals and minimizing the trauma to your
family — then it’s a great choice,” says collaborative-law attorney
Jody Johnson in Dallas.
How is collaborative law different from traditional litigation?
In her book Divorce without Disaster: Collaborative Law in Texas
(Professional Solutions Group, 2004), Dallas-based lawyer Janet P.
Brumley writes that litigation “is the most public, intrusive, damaging
avenue for divorce.” Litigation minimizes the ability of the parties to
control the outcome of the case, as a judge renders the final decision.
“A decade ago, judges and attorneys tried to mitigate the effects of family-law litigation by insisting… that parties submit to mediation
before going to court,” Brumley notes. “But sometimes mediation is just
a way station en route to the courthouse. What the system needed was a
method of marital dissolution that opted people out of the court system
your divorce through collaborative law allows you, your spouse, and
your respective lawyers to openly and honestly create an agreement that
addresses both of your needs and circumstances. “Doing your divorce
collaboratively is much like getting a hand-tailored suit instead of one
off the rack,” Brumley continues. “A litigated divorce follows a
predictable pattern fitted to the needs of legal professionals — not to
How is collaborative law different from mediation?
mediation, collaborative law emphasizes a non-adversarial approach to
resolution. But the two methods work very differently: in mediation, the
parties negotiate the details of the agreement themselves with the
assistance of a mediator. “In mediation, you use an impartial third
party to help you decide the issues,” says Houston-based collaborative
lawyer Maureen Peltier, who also practices mediation. “In collaborative
law, both attorneys and the parties work together without the need of a
neutral third party. A mediator would only come into collaborative law
if the parties and lawyers couldn’t settle the issues themselves — but I
haven’t yet seen a collaborative-law case in which there was a need for
major difference is that in collaborative law, litigation is not an
option as long as you retain the collaborative lawyers. As Brumley
points out, sometimes failed mediations end up as courtroom battles.
Can I use other experts to assist me in the process?
“In collaborative law, we often use mutual, neutral experts — including appraisers, evaluators, and mental-health professionals
— if the need arises,” says Houston collaborative-law attorney Barbara
Runge, “so long as both parties agree that the experts aren’t hired by
only one side.”
Can I still go to court if I choose to do so?
still retain your right to go to court, but you and your spouse must
each hire a new attorney to do so. “In collaborative law, the attorneys
are required to withdraw from the case if litigation becomes necessary,”
explains Runge. “Therefore, the attorneys as well as the parties are
invested in the process. With diligence and dedication, the parties and
attorneys work toward achieving the same goal: settlement. When everyone
is focused on resolving the case, time and energy are not expended on
hardball litigation tactics.” The process works more smoothly than
litigation does, she adds, and the parties are strengthened by their
opportunity to participate. “Imagine the gratitude of our collaborative
clients: they’ve met the challenge and worked out their own resolution
— one that has been crafted specifically by and for themselves and
How can I find a collaborative-law attorney in Texas?
you search on the Internet,” suggests Dallas attorney Mary Jo McCurley,
“it should list websites for several collaborative-law practice groups
in Texas. Each one has different members you can contact.” For those
without web access, she says, “there’s a statewide group called the
Collaborative Law Institute. They would also have resources to find
lawyers in Texas who are trained in collaborative law.” The Institute,
located in Dallas, can be reached at (469) 374-9600 or via
If you already have a lawyer who isn’t a collaborative lawyer, he or she may be able to refer you to one as well.
Is collaborative law expensive?
the many benefits of using collaborative law in divorce is the
elimination of the massive expense of a courtroom battle — assuming
that you and your spouse can commit yourselves to focusing on the big
picture and resolving your issues. “Collaborative law is probably the
best opportunity for clients in terms of reducing or minimizing the costs as opposed to litigation,” explains Houston attorney Steven Ongert, “but the reduction of emotional turmoil is one of the primary benefits. Collaborative law could
potentially cost the same as litigation, but that’s not the main issue
— it’s the emotional benefits.” Still, according to a survey in American Lawyer magazine, the average collaborative-law case costs about one-third in attorneys’ fees as does the average litigated case.
Where can I learn more?
For more information on collaborative law, read Janet Brumley’s book Divorce without Disaster: Collaborative Law in Texas.