For couples who wish to separate or divorce outside of the court system but who feel they need more support than working in the mediation process, collaborative law offers an alternative that still allows the spouses or parents to hear each other, but with the support of an attorney by his or her side.
The collaborative process is interdisciplinary – in addition to each spouse or parent having his or her own attorney, a family specialist is part of the collaborative team. This trained mental health professional meets with each spouse or parent prior to the first 5 way meeting and then attends that meeting as a neutral participant who serves several important purposes: they can keep the meeting moving through the agenda, reflect and temper any emotions that may flare up, and if necessary, call for a break to speak to a person needing support, and/or serve as a mediator between the attorneys. A financial neutral may also attend the meetings as needed as well as help the spouses prepare budgets, tax impact asset division and help provide information either individually or together. This team approach is more supportive than in litigation and gives the spouses the greatest chance of a successful outcome.
The basis for the collaborative process is the participation agreement. Each spouse and team member signs this document, which states that if the collaborative process were to end before a full agreement and were to move to a litigation process, the lawyers would step out and litigation counsel will be engaged. This serves two purposes: it keeps the spectre of litigation from hanging over the collaborative process and keeps the lawyers committed to moving the process forward to resolution.
The structure of the collaborative process is as follows:
- Each spouse engages a collaboratively- trained attorney. There are lists of collaboratively trained attorneys here:
- Each party meets with a mutually-agreed family specialist and the first 5 way meeting is scheduled.
- Prior to the 5 way meeting each attorney meets with his or her client and the collaborative team has a telephone meeting to set the prospective agenda and review a report from the family specialist on potential hot button issues.
- The agenda is circulated for any client additions and the first 5 way meeting is held.
- After the meeting the attorneys debrief with the team and debrief with their client, discerning what went well and what didn’t go well and how to do things better in next meeting.
- Meeting Progress Notes are circulated including homework to complete before the next meeting.
- This process continues until full resolution of all issues.
- The attorneys draft the agreement and present it to the clients for comments and changes, and the agreement is ultimately signed.
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