Gary Kollmeier

Attorney at Law, Denton County

Collaborative Law: A Strategic Overview

Collaborative Law: The Concept

An emerging trend in the field of alternative dispute resolution, the collaborative law concept is a utilizes as process that provides a structured and cooperative out-of-court approach to problem-solving that allows those in a legal dispute to work together with their attorneys and other professionals  toward a solution in a positive, results-focused setting. Ideally suited to family law, by committing to the collaborative law process, spouses in a divorce or others in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship can finalize agreements and resolve any related disputes without stepping into a courtroom.

Background and Development

The collaborative law process was founded in the early 1990’s by Minnesota family law attorneys who were looking for a more civil, straightforward and fairer approach to divorce cases. Today, an increasingly large number of national, regional, and state collaborative law groups exist.  Texas has many collaborative professional practice groups in addition to the recently formed Texas Collaborative Law Institute. Most of these organizations focus exclusively on the application of collaborative law principles to family law (typically divorce and related disputes.   Practice groups allow the parties to a dispute to coordinate their choice of lawyers to those who are specifically trained in the collaborative law process.

The Collaborative Law Process

In the typical family law setting, the benchmark of the collaborative law process is the participants’ commitment to resolving disputes by utilizing a formal, constructive and reasoned procedure.  This commitment is made typified by the use of an agreement entered into between the parties, in which they promise to use good faith and fairness in negotiating a resolution, and to fully and timely disclose all information and documents relevant to the issues at hand. The parties’ lawyers demonstrate their commitment to the process by adhering to a fundamental collaborative law principle requiring that if either party terminates the collaborative process in favor of traditional litigation, then the collaborative law attorneys must withdraw from the case. In other words, once the collaborative process begins, if one or both of the spouses decide to pursue adversarial litigation, different attorneys must be hired to represent the spouses during litigation.   A key to the success in a collaborative case is the signing of the participation agreement in which the attorneys and parties agree that if any party withdraws from the process, the attorneys must withdraw from representing either party in litigation, and all communications made during the process remain confidential.   This agreement encourages full good faith participation by the parties and their respective attorneys.  It sounds harsh, but it actually works to keep everyone committed to the process, and allow for full confidentiality of negotiations and communications during the meetings.

In the collaborative law setting, both parties and their respective attorneys meet in a comfortable neutral setting such as an office or conference room, and begin a formalized negotiation process.  An emerging trend is the use allied professionals such as mental health practitioners and financial professionals, in which case the process is called Interdisciplinary Collaborative Family Law. The key to these negotiations is that all persons are expected to freely participate in a positive and open discussion that has an agreeable resolution as its ultimate goal. The setting differs from similar alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods like arbitration and mediation in that there is no neutral third party at the center of the collaborative process -- just the parties and their attorneys. The attorneys participate in the collaborative process as representatives of their respective clients, but also act to support and encourage an agreeable solution for all parties and families involved.   The allied professionals, if utilized, participate as full neutrals, which actively promote and facilitate communication and understanding of related issues such as custody, visitation and financial issues.

As negotiations progress and the parties find it necessary to do so, they may agree to hire additional experts to assist with accounting matters, asset valuation, or other technical issues that might arise during discussion of support obligations and property division.

In the majority of collaborative law negotiations the parties are able to arrive at a settlement agreement resolving all disputes at issue. For example, spouses who decide to use the collaborative process to finalize a divorce may complete successful negotiations and enter into a comprehensive written agreement that validates the divorce and details arrangements and obligations related to issues like child support, custody, visitation, and division of property.

Benefits of Collaborative Family Law

In addition to providing a cooperative approach to problem solving, the collaborative law process offers a number of benefits to people involved in a family law dispute. Although individual circumstances will vary, collaborative law should provide a quicker and less expensive method of resolving a dispute when compared with adversarial traditional family law litigation.  The process encourages the parties to learn new communication and negotiation skills which usually translate into better relationships between the parties and their children after the current dispute is resolved.   It is possible that the collaborative process can be more expensive if the parties are unable to complete the process and then decide to pursue litigation.

In addition to money and time saved, by avoiding family law litigation, collaborative law participants and their families may be spared a certain amount of stress on themselves and on their family relationships.

Get Help: Finding a Collaborative Family Law Attorney

If you are considering filing for divorce, or are currently involved in a divorce, support, custody, or other child related modification dispute; collaborative law may offer a positive resolution to your situation.   You should contact an attorney with collaborative family law training and experience to discuss the process and your legal options.

In Denton County, Texas, the Denton Collaborative Family Law Professionals functions as a collaborative law practice group allowing its members to work toward using the same processes and materials.  This allows the parties to a family law dispute to hire attorneys that are trained in similar process techniques, and have made a professional and continuing commitment to the process, and are comfortable in working with each other in a non-adversarial manner.

Please call and schedule an appointment for a consultation. An in-depth interview usually takes at least one to two hours to explore and understand the dynamics of a client's situation and explore practical options and resolutions to legal issues. The normal cost of an initial consultation is only $175.00

Gary Kollmeier
Gary Kollmeier

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