1. What is collaborative practice?
Generally, collaborative practice is a non-litigated, non-adversarial way to resolve disputes respectfully. It is most often used for resolving divorce, custody, and other family law issues but is increasingly used in other areas, such as business disputes and probate. In a collaborative case, the parties work with a team of professionals, including lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial neutrals, to resolve their issues without resorting to litigation. This is why collaborative practice is sometimes referred to as “no court divorce.”
2. What’s the point of having all those people involved in my case?
Each case is different. Your case is unlike any other case: it has unique people, personalities, facts and circumstances. A collaborative team works with you and your partner to help you find solutions that are right for your family. Each member of the collaborative team has specific expertise and insights that help you achieve your goals.
3. But that’s what I pay my lawyer to do.
Yes, in a litigated case, you pay your lawyer to advise you on all aspects of the case, including your financial future, your children’s best interests, and the most appropriate parenting plan for your family. Lawyers are good at this, but why have your lawyer advise you on financial matters when a financial neutral can do so at a fraction of the cost? Why have your lawyer advise you on your kids’ best interest when he or she has never met your kids and is not an expert on children’s issues? Lawyers are good at what they do. In a collaborative case, the lawyers function as lawyers, not as coaches, financial specialists, or child specialists.
4. But do I have to have all those people on my team? It’s really an easy case.
Some lawyers will take a collaborative case using only some of the team members. In our experience, clients ultimately see better results when they use an entire team. This is called a “full team” case. Because each collaborative case is different, you may not use certain members of the team very much. Some people only have one meeting with a team member and never need them again. That’s ok. But it’s better to have a team member in place, just in case you need them. If a problem arises in the case and if a team member is not already in place, it could take weeks or months to bring the new team member into the case and bring them up to speed.
In our practice I only take full team cases because a full team is better prepared to handle any problems that might come up.
5. Who are the team members and what are their jobs?
The clients. The most important team members are the clients. The clients agree to do the following:
- work as a part of the team to develop various options for solutions to problems; and
- addresses issues they may have with the process directly with the team.
Collaborative coaches. Collaborative coaches are mental health professionals; however, they do not practice therapy in a collaborative case. Instead, they help clients communicate so that they can move through the process most efficiently, and they help clients put together their parenting plan. Collaborative coaches
- help clients clarify their concerns;
- help clients manage their emotions;
- help clients develop effective communication skills and reinforce those skills; and
- help clients develop effective co-parenting skills and formulate a parenting plan.
Child specialist. The child specialist acts as the voice for the children in the divorce. Specifically, the child specialist
- listens to each child;
- sensitizes parents to the needs of each child in the context of the divorce; and
- gives information to parents and the coaching team to assist in developing an effective co-parenting plan.
Financial Specialist. The financial specialist gathers and analyzes the financial data provided by the parties. The financial specialist, with the attorneys, helps the couple explore their financial options and decide on the best plan for their family. As part of this process, the financial specialist
- gathers financial data
- develops different financial scenarios for clients to evaluate; and
- provides financial guidance, planning, support and budgeting throughout the divorce process.
Collaborative attorneys. Collaborative attorneys help the clients evaluate options and advise clients on the legal implications of each option, draft the necessary legal documents, and shepherd the case through the court system to obtain a Final Judgment. Specifically the attorneys
- assist clients in gathering and analyzing information;
- help clients examine needs and interests to develop settlement options and packages;
- help clients evaluate consequences and limitations of possible solutions;
- help clients re-sort values and interests in relation to settlement options being developed and presented; and
- sset the framework for negotiation.
6. Sounds awfully expensive to have all those people on my team. How much does it cost?
The cost of each case depends on many factors, including the complexity of the facts, the size of the marital estate, how well the parties are able to work together, whether the kids have any special needs, and any mental health issues that might need to be addressed. Even so, a collaborative case is not as expensive as you might think. Remember, you will be paying experts to perform their functions on the team. That means they’ll probably be very efficient, and you will be getting more value for the money you spend.
In a traditionally-litigated case, each side typically spends a great deal of time and money trying to get documents and witness testimony from the other side so that they can prepare their case for trial. This can be the most expensive part of litigation, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. In a collaborative case, both sides agree that the process will be transparent, and that each side will turn over all necessary documents and information. Working with each other, instead of against each other, often turns out to be much less expensive than in litigated divorces.
7. Ok, you’ve convinced me. So do I need to hire a lawyer to file for divorce?
No. In a collaborative case, the parties do not file for divorce until all issues have been settled. This helps neutralize the stress and emotion of the divorce process.
8. So how do I proceed?
First you need to meet with a collaboratively-trained lawyer. A collaborative case cannot proceed without two lawyers who both have received special training in collaborative practice. For information on which lawyers have been collaboratively trained, go to the collaborative practice group or website in your state. In Georgia, you can see if a lawyer has been collaboratively trained by visiting the website for the Collaborative Law Institute of Georgia, www.collaborativepracticega.com.
Once you and your partner have both retained collaborative attorneys, they will schedule a “Four Way Meeting” to discuss your case and sign the necessary paperwork for a collaborative case. At that time the lawyers will help you put together a collaborative team. You’ll be given “homework” to do and your lawyers will help you start moving forward with your case.
Your case will then proceed in a series of meetings with the various professionals in which you will discuss, brainstorm, and negotiate a settlement of all issues related to the divorce.
9. Wait. I’ll move forward? Won’t my team be in charge of the case?
Your team will assist you in getting to your desired result, but you and your partner will be working hard as team members to move through and finish your case.
10. I don’t want to sit across the table from my spouse and work out our divorce. Truthfully, I don’t ever want to see him again.
It’s important to understand that collaborative is not for everyone. You have to be willing to work hard, to treat him with respect, to be honest, and to play fair. And your most important priority has to be your kids. Frankly, not everyone can successfully complete a collaborative case. But if you want to dance at your daughter’s wedding, to be in the same room at your son’s graduation, or to see your grandchildren without worrying whether your ex-spouse will show up unexpectedly and ruin the day, this is the process for you. If you want your kids to be able to invite both of you to the school play, collaborative is the process for you.