The most suitable solution for this couple is to take advantage of the Collaborative Law process. Through this approach, the parties can mutually fashion the result of their divorce and minimize the negative impact their permanent separation will have on their children. The parties mutually make their choices using cooperative strategies, rather than allowing the court to make the decisions for them.
Collaborative law allows clients to have their lawyers with them during the negotiation process, but commits the attorneys to maintaining the single agenda of reaching a settlement. It is the job of the attorneys to work with their own clients and each other to ensure the process remains positive and productive.
Other professionals will join the collaborative process. Typically, these include divorce coaches, a child specialist (if needed), and a neutral financial specialist. Each party and professional must subscribe to the same collaborative values and beliefs. These include not resorting to litigation to resolve the issues and agreeing to withdraw from the case if it falls out of collaboration into litigation. The Collaborative process law binds the parties and the attorneys to voluntarily reveal all relevant information in good faith to resolve the issues.
The Collaborative Law process offers several advantages to the family. These include:
Currently, only a minority of family law attorneys practice collaborative law. Those who do, work with a team of professionals who are committed to the process. The collaborative law attorney will typically provide a list of all of the professionals connected with his/her group to each party. Both are free to pick whomever they choose, regardless whether the professional is a member of that respective attorney’s team. Each individual, however, will be best served by an attorney and team experienced in collaborative law. An attorney who has never been involved in the collaborative process may fall back on habits acquired in handling a non-collaborative case; being unnecessarily adversarial or using inflammatory language.
Once the professionals have been retained, the team meets in a group setting. The parties and attorneys read the protocols and guidelines to ensure the understanding of how the process works. A collaborative law agreement is signed by the parties and all of the professionals. However, signing the collaborative agreement does not prevent a party from terminating the process and deciding to litigate.
The divorcing couple works with their coaches to enhance their communication skills and grasp self-management and negotiation capabilities. The parties learn how to communicate their concerns and discuss options for their parenting plans. These meetings are essential in helping the parties work with each other and the team during the divorce process and in assisting them with improving co-parenting abilities.
To assess the needs and concerns of the children, the child specialist meets with each individual child. The specialist then assists parents in recognizing and meeting the needs of the children, while providing the children with a voice in the divorce process. With the information received, a parenting plan is then incorporated into the final divorce document.
Initially, the financial specialist meets with both parties to assist with their dialogue and gather financial information. This individual works closely with the respective parties and attorneys to ensure both parties understand the financial consequences and settlement options. The couple, along with their attorneys and the financial specialist, develops the financial settlement.
The collaborative approach provides the couple with the services they need from the professional most qualified to address each of the complex and varied issues of divorce. Working together, the collaborative professionals help divorcing couples achieve an outcome that would not be possible without the cooperative team involvement. The result minimizes trauma for the children and enhances the ability of both parties to communicate and make life easier on each other long after the divorce has concluded.
MichaelAnne Cahill has been practicing family law for nine years and is a member of Alternatives-A Collaborative Divorce Team. She received her law degree from Pepperdine University and bachelor degree from UCLA.