There is a new method of resolving disputes which has recently arrived in Maine. Called "Collaborative Law", it is already practiced in several states and in many other places around the world. Collaborative law is not reserved exclusively for divorce cases, but many practitioners feel that the process of collaborative law is often beneficial to the participants in a divorce. Collaborative law can also be used in contract disputes, employee/employer disputes, and in any other type of dispute where both parties have a vested interest in staying out of the litigation process.
Collaborative law can be boiled down to a few basic concepts. At bottom is a contractual agreement where the lawyers and the parties promise to cooperate with each other in trying to resolve their differences. Further, the collaborative lawyers will withdraw if either party wants to proceed with litigation. That is, both parties who enter into the collaborative dispute resolution process will have to find different lawyers if that process does not work, for whatever reason. This gives everybody a vested interest in working through the difficult times.
In the process, the parties contract with each other to make every reasonable effort to settle their case without court intervention. They agree to give full, prompt, honest and open disclosure of all information pertinent to their case, whether requested or not, and in a timely manner. The parties agree to engage in informal discussions and conferences with the goal of settling all issues.
The collaborative law process can involve other professionals, as well as the parties and their attorneys. Some times, the parties retain a mediator. By definition, a mediator is a "neutral". The unique aspect about the collaborative law process, however, is that the parties often choose to jointly retain other "neutral" professionals, such as accountants, career counselors, mental health professionals, etc. This is vastly different from the typical litigation process, where each party hires its own experts and other professionals.
The advantages to collaborative divorce over a court fight should be obvious. Hopefully, the stress will be less for all concerned, and the parties will come out of the process retaining a measure of trust and respect for each other. The attorneys will often be urging their clients to be generous toward each other rather than greedy or stingy. The idea is to arrive at a solution that everyone respects. It is our personal experience that cases that settle are much less likely to return to court in the future. If the parties can share experts and other professionals, they should both save on expenses. Any experienced lawyer will also tell you that it is far less stressful, time-consuming and expensive in general to settle a case with a counterpart with whom you can work collaboratively, than it is to take the matter to trial.
Mr. Brown has attended interdisciplinary training for collaborative divorce (and collaborative law generally), and he is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Please ask us about the collaborative process if you are interested.