What Is Collaborative Family Law?

Collaborative law was created as an alternative to traditional litigation. Litigation can be expensive, time-consuming and confrontational for all parties involved. Family law issues are often particularly emotional and since children are often involved, the traditional court process has been viewed as negative and possibly harmful. Family law issues range from divorce, spousal support and asset division to child issues such as custody, support and visitation. When trying to reach an agreement regarding family law issues, litigation may often be an emotionally charged, negative experience for the parties involved. As another option to litigation, collaborative law is an out-of-court process that is intended to produce an environment of consideration for others and communication that helps parties cooperate with each other and reach a settlement agreement.

The collaborative law model has been increasing in popularity since it was introduced in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the early 1990s. It has been used in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, China, some African countries and other European countries. Attorneys in the U.S. and around the world have formed professional groups in support of the collaborative law method as its recognition and use have grown. One of these groups is the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). One of the goals of groups such as the IACP is to provide individuals information about what collaborative law is, whether it may be a good choice for them and how to locate an attorney who is trained in collaborative law.

Attorneys who practice in this area are trained in the collaborative law method. In most states, training includes workshops and instruction with other collaborative law professionals and involves skills similar to those of a trained mediator, such as interest-based negotiation.

Collaborative law is intended to be conducted by a team of specialists; this team approach may help the parties reach an agreement by giving them guidance in specific areas. Specialists may focus on children's issues, mental health or financial matters and do not have to be attorneys or part of the legal profession. Not all types of trained specialists must be used in every collaborative law negotiation; however, a financial specialist is used by most parties. The purpose of specialists is to help the parties reach a settlement and assist with any difficulties they may have regarding parenting plans or visitation, valuation of property or other assets, budgeting, alimony, child support, communication skills or mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

When parties agree to using collaborative law for their family law issues, they must agree to fully participate in negotiation and treat the other party with civility and respect. If the parties cannot agree to these terms, the collaborative model may not be the right choice for them and the process cannot continue. If the parties agree to the terms, each spouse will have an attorney to represent his or her interests in the negotiations. The parties will have a series of meetings with each other, each party's attorney and team specialists to work on an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the collaborative method is discontinued and the parties must engage new attorneys to enter the litigation process to resolve their dispute.

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