Collaborative law is a relatively new procedure. It’s a process where you can get a divorce without any court involvement other than at the very beginning and the very end of the case. It has many benefits over the litigation divorce model like creativity, privacy, and reduced expenses.
To handle your case collaboratively, the first step is to file a petition and notify the court that it’s a collaborative process. At that point, you set up meetings with the other party and their attorney. The only people in these meetings are the spouses and their lawyers. Each spouse has their own representation, so both feel equally represented and can get unbiased advice.
Generally, there will be anywhere from 5 meetings to 15 meetings, depending on the issues. At the very first meeting the lawyers establish ground rules. Basically, the rules are (1) be respectful, (2) allow each other to finish speaking, and (3) talk specifically about the issues. In a collaborative case there is not a formal discovery process like in litigation. In one a the first few meetings you will likely only talk about what needs to be looked at like financial documents, child custody issues, and anything else that might be affected by the divorce. This information gathering process is important so that everyone understands the issues as they come up.
Then you’ll schedule a third or fourth meeting where the resolution discussions start. Each issue will be a separate meeting, so you aren’t talking about child custody and property issues in the same meeting. These meetings will be kept relatively short as to not wear people down. They will last maybe an hour or two hours. Then schedule the next meeting for the next issue. At some point during the final meetings a third party might need to be brought in to help solve some problems. For example, if there are complex property issues, a CPA may be brought in to explain the division.
There are two important factors in collaborative law to make note of. In a collaborative divorce process any contact made is made to everybody involved. If you e-mail your spouse’s attorney, you must copy your spouse, your attorney, and any neutral third parties involved in your case. Because it is an informal process, there is always a free flow of information and everybody knows what’s being said. The second important thing to note is if you agree to sign a participation agreement and handle your case collaboratively and the case does not settle, both attorneys have to withdraw and you have to get new counsel for litigation.