What is collaborative law?

Are you going through a very nasty divorce? What about a very friendly divorce but there are many complex legal issues regarding finances and property?  If so Collaborative Law may suit your needs if you prefer to settle rather than litigate.  As you know litigation can be expensive, time consuming and mentally exhausting.  If you compound litigation with complicated financial issues, mental health issues, domestic violence or even excessive hostility and acrimony between parties, litigation can become a nightmare.  Collaborative Law allows the parties to navigate these issues with their attorneys working as a team outside of court to reach a resolution.  Under North Carolina General Statute sections 50-70 etc., a civil action may be conducted under the Collaborative Law procedures.

Collaborative Law is like a Texas Hold'em poker game where everyone shows his/her cards at the beginning, and the dealer hands out cards needed to give everyone a winnning hand.  There is no opponent in Collaborative Law because everyone works as a team.  The team at a minimum will consist of the parties and their attorneys.  The team can expand to include therapists, accountants and other professionals who can assist with reaching a resolution. This inclusivity distinguishes Collaborative Law from separation agreements and mediation which sets parties as adversaries trying to get the best deal for themselves and not necessarily for the other party.

Why would other professionals be needed in the Collaborative process? Let's say for example, one of the spouses has mental health issues, and may have unrealistic expectations as to custody and visitation.  That spouse's therapist/counsellor can partake in the collaborative meeting to help the spouse overcome roadblocks that would normally hinder a reasonable settement.

Another example is a child who refuses to visit or reside with the other parent.  The child's therapist can provide coaching skills to the parents to assist them working a visitation schedule in a collaborative setting.

Normally it takes several two hour meetings in the collaborative process. The first meeting is designed to exchange information such as wages, bills, tax returns, school records, etc.  The goal of the first meeting is to identify what the issues are and set an agenda.  Full disclosure is an absolute must.  If there are hidden accounts, or there is adultery, everyone will have to come clean in order for the process to work.  This is where showing your hand in a Texas Hold'em game comes into play. 

The follow-up meetings will deal with a paritcular issue such as finances to determine what amount of child support or alimony is reasonable and so forth.  If CPAs are needed to go through financials, this would be the appropriate meeting for them to attend. Other follow up meetings could deal with custody and visitation, property division and so on.

If a settlement is reached, the agreement will be put into writing and signed by the parties under seal. When the parties get their divorce, they can incorporate the written agreement into their divorce judgment.  In the event settlement is unsuccessful, and the parties have to litigate in court, rest assured, all communications and work products for the collaborative law meeings are privileged, confidential and inadmissible in court.  Therefore the attorneys involved in the collaborative process cannot be used in litigation.  The parties will have to hire new attorneys.

If you want more information about Collaborative Law and whether it is something you should pursue, contact the Miller Law Firm, we are here to help.


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