Collaborative Law

John K. Taggart, III

What is Collaborative Law? Collaborative Law brings together trained legal counsel to assist clients in dispute resolution without the threat of litigation. The goal of Collaborative Law is to eliminate the adversarial approach often associated with resolving conflict and instead to foster an environment of cooperation, honesty, and respect. Tremblay & Smith has several, specially trained collaborative lawyers to assist you in achieving a resolution.

How Collaborative Law Works—A Case Study. Ron and Judy are trying to work through a divorce and settle their child custody issues. In the Collaborative Law process, Ron and Judy both select their own collaborative lawyers. Ron, Judy, and their collaborative lawyers sign a contract agreeing to work through their issues and to avoid litigation. They then have several meetings and discussions to arrive at mutually agreeable solutions. If necessary, the collaborative lawyers may bring in agreed upon outside professionals, such as child specialists and financial planners, to assist in the process. After the process is complete, Ron and Judy have met their current and future needs in a respectful, less stressful, and potentially less costly manner.

The Collaborative Law Process is a dispute resolution method that focuses on cooperation, not confrontation. Its purpose revolves around problem solving with each of your collaborative lawyers to a point where you and your spouse try to understand each other through a series of informal discussions and meetings. You and your spouse are responsible for information gathering and solutions with the guidance of your own personal collaborative lawyer.

Collaborative Law is a team approach to helping you and your spouse to:

  • find and focus on your common interests;
  • understand each other’s concerns;
  • exchange information;
  • let go of the past in order to focus on the future;
  • explore a wide range of possible choices; and
  • reach solutions acceptable to both of you.

It generally takes much less time and money to settle matters using the Collaborative Law Process. And, because you, your spouse, and both collaborative lawyers sign a contract agreeing not to litigate, it is a less stressful, and more rewarding process.

Your collaborative lawyer will represent you and advise you of the law while working through the process. He/She will discuss your options, the fees, and the process so that you understand all that is involved. Your collaborative lawyer will represent your best interests, but will also listen to your spouse’s interests. (Likewise, your spouse’s collaborative lawyer will represent your spouse’s best interests, but will also listen to yours.)

Both collaborative lawyers will facilitate honest and respectful Collaborative Law meetings to help all parties share the facts, manage emotions, and find a solution. This could include facilitating the involvement of other professionals, such as child specialists and financial planners.

Neither collaborative lawyer will go to court before you and your spouse reach an agreement. Without the threat of litigation, satisfactory agreement is more likely to be reached.

Once you and your spouse settle on the issues, both collaborative lawyers will help you to obtain any necessary court approval.

There are several distinct advantages to the Collaborative Law Process over the typical adversarial approach.

  • Clients and collaborative lawyers work together as members of the settlement team, rather than working against each other as “opposing parties.”
  • Both clients have skilled legal advisors at every stage of the process. Both collaborative lawyers understand how to reach creative settlements. You are never on your own; your collaborative lawyer is at your side, explaining issues and helping you to achieve goals by mutual participation and agreement.
  • Both clients will spend less money and time using the Collaborative Law Process.
  • Both clients and their collaborative lawyers agree in advance to work only toward a settlement acceptable to both clients. Litigation can never be threatened. Neither you nor your spouse will be permitted to be disrespectful or take advantage of each other.
  • The collaborative lawyers share with their clients a financial incentive to make the Collaborative Law Process work. The collaborative lawyers have not succeeded unless they help you create a win-win solution. They are “out of a job” if the process breaks down.
  • The collaborative lawyers are concerned about the process as well as the outcome.

The Collaborative Law Process could work well for you and your spouse if:

  • both of you are determined to behave in a respectful, ethical manner to each other while working out the terms of your divorce;
  • both of you value a negotiated solution that meets your needs now and in the future; and
  • both of you will commit your energy toward creative problem solving rather than blaming and revenge.

If you and your spouse meet this profile and participate energetically in the Collaborative Law Process, you may well:

  • spend less money and time than you would using other methods for reaching separation or divorce solutions;
  • produce an agreement better suited to your own unique needs; and
  • find the Collaborative Law Process more engaging, more informative, and less stressful than other methods of resolving your divorce or separation issues.

If you think the Collaborative Law Process may work for you, take the following steps.

  • Talk with your spouse about the Collaborative Law Process and share this handout.
  • Each of you should select your own collaborative lawyer from the Collaborative Family Law Society (CLS) or the International Association of Collaborative Lawyers (IACP). You may meet with more than one collaborative lawyer before making your selection
  • Your collaborative lawyers can help you decide whether the Collaborative Law Process suits you. If so, move to the next step.
  • Each client meets first with his/her collaborative lawyer and then both clients and both collaborative lawyers attend the first four-way Collaborative Law meeting.
  • Both clients and both collaborative lawyers sign the Collaborative Law Contract of the Association of Collaborative Lawyers. In this contract you agree not to go to court.

The entire team works together to reach agreeable solutions for all.