What Is Collaborative Law?

What Professional Resources Are Available In The Collaborative Law Process?

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Collaborative Law?

Does The Collaborative Process Protect My Rights?

What Kind Of Conflicts Does Collaborative Law Solve?

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Collaborative Divorce:  What It Is and How It Works, By Tali A. Katz, JD

A new and radical process can be difficult to embrace - particularly for those of us who have devoted our professional careers to the application of rules, laws, precedents and formulas. Whether you are intrigued by the concept or not, we believe you ought to know: Collaborative practice is changing the way family law disputes are being resolved throughout North America. Texas has enacted a Collaborative Law statute. A Family Court judge in Louisiana is transforming an entire parish from its reliance on traditional adversarial litigation to use of the Collaborative Divorce model in all family law matters. A town in Alberta, Canada has closed its Family Court all but one day a week due to lack of need for judicial intervention. There are thousands of professionals throughout the United States and Canada who are trained and practicing in a collaborative model.

Here's what Collaborative Divorce is not: It is not the same as mediation. It is not the least expensive alternative. It is not easier - not for the clients and not for the professionals. We believe, however, that Collaborative Divorce is the most effective, humane and productive model available for the dissolution of a family unit. The Collaborative Divorce model, as a specific ADR process, emerged in response to the psychological, financial and family system devastation which often results from traditional family law litigation. The Collaborative Divorce model engages an interdisciplinary team of professionals whose integrated services educate, guide and support the divorcing couple in crafting an equitable and just resolution without threat of or resort to litigation. At the inception of a case, both parties and all professionals on the team sign a Participation Agreement, stating that all team members will withdraw from the case in the event that either party terminates the Collaborative process by opting for litigation.

A Collaborative Divorce Team typically consists of the following professionals:

Two Collaborative Attorneys: Each party independently retains his and her own Collaborative Attorney. Each Collaborative Attorney is licensed to practice, is experienced in the area of family law, has specialized training in collaborative team practice and is committed to assisting the family in resolving disputes in a manner which is open, honest, respectful and cooperative. Attorneys and clients agree in advance to set aside adversarial strategies and focus on working together towards positive solutions.

Two Collaborative Coaches: Each party independently retains his and her own Divorce Coach. Each Collaborative Divorce coach is a licensed or certified mental health professional, with particular expertise in the psychological dynamics of divorce and specialized training in collaborative team practice. Coaches assist the couple in diffusing highly charged emotional issues, teach the parties effective communication and co-parenting skills and support the family through the transition of divorce. Distinct from therapy, coaches focus on achieving the immediate goal of a collaborative divorce by helping clients learn self-management skills such as anger management and stress management.
Ref. Page 100,Interdisciplinary Team Training Handbook
One jointly retained Child Specialist: The parties jointly retain one mental health professional to serve in the capacity of Child Specialist. The Child Specialist, also a licensed or certified mental health professional, has particular expertise in child development and divorce related issues as they impact children and has specialized training in collaborative team practice. The child specialist provides the children a voice in the process in a way that vastly differs from that of a custody evaluator. The Child Specialist helps children express their concerns while providing the parties with information regarding their children's developmental and emotional needs.

One jointly retained Financial Specialist: The parties jointly retain one neutral financial professional with specialized training in collaborative team practice to serve in the capacity of Financial Specialist. The Financial Specialist, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or CPA, counsels couples on the basic financial pragmatics of their divorce, while facilitating their dialogue about money. The Financial specialist gathers together all necessary financial data and assists the parties and their collaborative attorneys in generating settlement options, which take into consideration the short and long term financial implications of the parties' agreements.

The hallmark of the Collaborative Divorce model is the use of the right professional expertise for the right issue. We all know that divorce is much more than a legal event. Litigation is frequently fueled by the anger, hurt, mistrust and fear that parties inevitably feel at some point during the divorce process. Litigation provides parties no real mechanism for working through their complex emotional issues; like elephants in the living room, we ignore them, deny them, pretend they aren't there. When parties are provided with the necessary information, skills and support in a safe and contained environment, they have the opportunity to heal and move forward as co-parents, focusing their negotiations on bonafide legal issues. Use of the neutral financial specialist gives parties the opportunity to craft a property settlement that takes into consideration long term financial implications, allowing for financial education and planning in a manner that is not available in an adversarial process.

A Collaborative Divorce case differs from mediation in the level of guidance, education and support provided to the family. In a Collaborative case, parties receive the benefit of ongoing and integrated legal counsel and advice. Emotional issues are acknowledged and addressed by professionals trained to do so. Children's concerns are given a voice by an unbiased expert; parties and their attorneys listen. Financial issues are tackled openly with the assistance of one neutral financial expert. All team members bring to bear their shared goal of problem solving rather than "winning," modeling cooperative behavior and thereby supporting and encouraging clients to do the same.

One might conclude that the use of so many professionals would make this process prohibitively expensive. To the contrary, our experience is that precisely because of the interdisciplinary expertise brought to each case, a typical Collaborative Divorce costs far less than a typical litigated case. And, the "value added" by clients' acquired knowledge, skills and cooperative experience makes post decree enforcement and judicially imposed modification virtually non¬existent.

If having read this you are experiencing a healthy dose of skepticism, you are not alone. This work is difficult. There is no final arbiter to whom we can turn for a decision. It requires a
Ref. Interdisciplinary Team Training Handbook
significant commitment on the part of clients and a major paradigm shift on the part of attorneys. It raises many issues regarding communication, confidentiality, ethics and advocacy, just to name a few. But despite its challenges, we believe the Collaborative Divorce model to be the most constructive and empowering alternative available to divorcing couples. We encourage you to learn more about the process, contact us with your questions and consider attending a training conference. Whether or not you choose to offer a collaborative alternative in your practice, clients should be informed that this method is available to them.
Ref. Interdisciplinary Team Training Handbook, Page 102

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