Since Collaborative Law came to Texas in 2000, more and more people have heard about it and have used the process to resolve family law matters. As more lawyers, mental health professions and financial professionals have become involved in Collaborative Law, they are telling more and more potential clients about the new option that is available. People are also hearing about it from friends and discovering it on the Internet and occasionally in the news media. Because Collaborative Law is such a new approach, many potential participants naturally have a lot of questions about it. This blog will answer many of those questions over time.
We will begin with a fundamental question most people ask: “Am I a good candidate for Collaborative Law?”
What is it and how does it work? Collaborative Law is a process for resolving legal disputes without going to court (except to have an agreement approved by the court). Parties engage in a series of relatively short meetings where they identify their goals, assess the facts of the case, brainstorm to generate options to solve problems, evaluate the suitability of the various options and then create or select the best means to achieve the goals for each of the parties. Neutral experts are often brought in in Texas Collaborative Law cases, as needed, for specific functions. If the process breaks down, the parties must retain different attorneys to go to court with them.
Results Collaborative Law is a voluntary choice and the parties can opt out at any time, but it generally works about 90-95% of the time because, for most cases, it can result in more creative, customized and peaceful solutions than traditional litigation. While it may seem counterintuitive, many people are able to be open, honest and cooperative even in difficult cases that involve issues such as custody, extra-marital relationships, unique possession schedules and substantial and complex property issues.
Why do people like it? People who have been choosing Collaborative Law appreciate one or more of the following characteristics. They –
- Value privacy. Collaborative meetings are private. There are no public hearings at the courthouse. Personal and financial information can be protected.
- Want to make their own decisions. Instead of turning things over to a judge, the parties are able to create their own solutions and not be bound by tradition or arbitrary guidelines or standards.
- Prefer to determine their own time schedule. In a litigated divorce, the parties often must follow an arbitrary time schedule imposed by a court and can be required to appear or take actions whenever the court wants them to, regardless of convenience or needs. In Collaborative cases, the parties decide how fast or slow they move and set meetings or take actions when they want to do so.
- Often want or need to maintain a good relationship with a spouse, post-litigation. If the parties are parents, they usually see the value in cooperating and sharing the raising of their children.
- Appreciate saving time and money by using jointly-hired neutral experts who work for both parties to create solutions. A neutral financial planner can often save money (and assets) for both parties by wise use of budgeting and tax planning when assets are divided. A mental health specialist can help the parties function well together and reduce tension, as well as often provide assistance with parenting issues.
- Are concerned primarily with the children’s best interests. They get neutral expert help to set up workable arrangements that suit the children and fit the parents’ situation. Many times, the standard Texas possession schedule is really inappropriate for the work schedules, school needs or personalties of the parents and children. With Collaborative Law, the parties can create a custom plan that fits their needs and abilities.
- Look to the future, rather than dwell on past conflicts. They focus on what good can come out of a difficult situation instead of dredging up all the past arguments and dirt on the other party. They may have had a bad experience in litigation, or may have seen it with family or friends. They realize that they can accomplish more and get better results by cooperating and acting as mature adults.
Caution Collaborative Law will not work for everyone, but it is a great option for many. Each case is different. Some people who are mentally ill, violent or just very unrealistic are not appropriate for Collaborative Law. Likewise, people with fixed ideas, unwilling to consider other options, cannot function in a Collaborative case. Sometimes, one party in a divorce can work effectively in the process, but the other party has some issues that prevent him or her from being able to participate appropriately. Nevertheless, for many other people, Collaborative Law provides hope for the future and life with less conflict. If you are anticipating being involved in the legal system with a family law matter, you should investigate the option of Collaborative Law.
Contributor: Dick Price (www.pricelawfirmtx.com), attorney in Fort Worth.