This article is the second in our mini-series of publications dealing with Collaborative Family Law. The previous one was an introduction where we described the concept of this practice as well as its benefits as compared to the traditional approach. This chapter will describe the process in more detail so that its benefits can be understood more clearly. Let’s begin.
How does the process work?
- The process is comprised of meetings. Each meeting is essentially a negotiation. The number of meetings will depend on the number of issues and their complexity. Prior to the first meeting each party will meet with their lawyer for preparation. At the initial meeting parties can speak about their interests and goals, what they hope to achieve at the end; a participation agreement will be signed by all sides, including the lawyers and any other professionals involved.
- The main defining character to the process is the commitment to avoid litigation. Neither party will go to court or threaten court action so long as the process continues. The elimination of this threat essentially removes the tension this threat would otherwise create, allowing all sides to speak freely with a view toward settling. Needless to say, everything discussed in the collaborative process remains confidential and cannot be used against the other party if the process fails. If the process fails to reach an agreement and the dispute has to go to court or if one party decides he/she wants to go to court, both lawyers are off the file. Neither lawyer who represented on the collaborative file can continue to act. A total commitment to the process is expected from each lawyer.
Who are the professionals that work on the file?
With this holistic approach the process incorporates other professionals as integral actors. Aside from the lawyers there can be a “family neutral”. It is usually a professional with background in healthcare, social work, psychology or related therapeutic field. This family neutral is trained to deal collaboratively with mental health and parenting issues. In addition, there can be a financial neutral, a professional with financial planning, business valuation or accounting background. The benefit in adding these professionals to the team is that they are completely neutral, unlike the lawyers, and equipped with the necessary skills that would help move issues toward resolution.
The family and financial professionals bring multiple perspectives expanding the potential for idea generation. The family professional is eminently suited for dealing with parenting issues. But beyond that, they also monitor the psychological and emotional undercurrents which, if ignored and left to simmer, or worse, not identified, can lead to a complete disruption of the process. The family professional provides continuous support to the parties, not therapy, and assists their co-professionals to identify and manage emotional and psychological threats to a successful resolution.
Financial professionals assist and collect financial disclosures. They prepare the financial information needed for discussing in depth property and support issues. If valuations are required they can prepare them. Once this information is collected, the financial professional can then provide critical information enabling the parties to make optimal choices. This information spans tax issues or financial planning among other related concerns. Often the sources of income as well as the income itself is limited so the financial input becomes critical for purposes or maximizing or stretching the available resources. The financial planners provide timely and essential financial information that the lawyers may not be qualified to do.
We hope this clarifies the process of collaborative law. From here on, the only question that remains is the cost. This particular topic will be elaborated on in the next and final part of this mini series.
Article written by Yoel Lichtblau Hon. B.A., J.D., M.B.A