Collaborative Law is a practice in which both parties and their attorneys agree in writing that each will use their best efforts and good faith to come to a mutually agreed-upon settlement without resorting to judicial intervention. Four-way settlement meetings are conducted where each party and their attorney are present. The difference between collaborative law and mediation is that, unlike mediators, collaborative lawyers are active legal advisors and negotiators for their clients. The attorneys, not the parties, lead the structure of the four-way meetings.
To find a collaborative law attorney, there are several options available to you. You can contact your local bar association and inquire about any collaborative lawyers in your area. You can also contact the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals to locate collaborative lawyers near you.
Whichever method you employ to find collaborative lawyers, make sure you interview several of them and ask for their resumes once you do. Excellent and reasonable questions to ask the collaborative lawyers are how many collaborative law cases they have handled, how many of them were terminated without agreements, and what training the collaborative lawyer has had in collaborative law, alternative dispute resolution, and conflict management. Do not assume that because a lawyer’s name appears in an advertisement for collaborative law services that the lawyer is necessarily suited by temperament or background to represent you effectively.
If, for any reason, once you and your spouse have engaged an attorney and began the collaborative law process and cannot reach a settlement and therefore must seek a judicial remedy, your individual lawyers up to that point cannot represent you or your spouse in court. You and your spouse must obtain new counsel in the event settlement negotiations fail. The additional expense of bringing new counsel “up to speed” should be considered in determining whether the collaborative law process is the right approach.
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