Collaborative Law. . . A Better Way; Part 1

Collaborative Law is quickly becoming a preferred method for handling divorce and other family law matters in Denton County and, frankly, the rest of the world.

In this part of my 3-part post, I’ll give a general overview of how cases work, when handled collaboratively, in Texas. Obviously, like the stars in the sky, there are millions of variables from one family to another and one of the benefits of Collaborative Divorce is that these variables can be handled in a way that is best suited to the party, best preserves the family relationship and protects the kids, and best preserves the parties’ marital estate.

Normally, if, after a consultation with one of our attorneys, a party wants to file for divorce and attempt to pursue it collaboratively, we will prepare and file a Petition for Divorce. Normally, we mention in our Petition that the party is interested in using Collaborative Law, and we attempt to make the Petition as non-confrontational as possible. We usually send that Petition, along with information about Collaborative Law, to the other party and hold off on having that party served. The idea is to encourage the other party to learn about the process and seek out a collaboratively trained lawyer, which is normally necessary if the case is going to proceed collaboratively. At our office ( Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers), all of our lawyers are trained and experienced at resolving cases using Collaborative Law.

Next, assuming that the parties both hire collaborative lawyers, and agree to explore using Collaborative Law, the lawyers and clients meet to review and enter into, if acceptable, a Collaborative Law Agreement. This agreement sets out the terms and conditions governing the process, including big things like an agreement not to seek, or threaten to seek Court intervention without formally leaving the process and an agreement that, should the parties not be able to settle their differences collaboratively, the collaborative attorneys will withdraw and the parties will be required to hire new litigation attorneys for the case. Regarding this last part, most collaborative lawyers can and do handle litigation matters, however, the general consensus is that collaborative attorneys should not represent their client against the other party in litigation. There are a number of reasons for this, but, in my opinion, the most important one is that it assures that everyone is invested in the process and working toward a successful collaborative conclusion to the case - after all, if the process is unsuccessful, the attorneys are out of a job!

Often at this first meeting, and subsequent meetings, the parties elect to have a financial professional, like a CPA, and a communications coach, present to assist in the process. In Texas, we almost exclusively use this “team model” collaborative approach and often find that it results in a better outcome for the parties and an actual overall cost savings. I’ll discuss the collaborative team in future posts.

Finally, as the process proceeds, the parties will exchange full and complete information, develop options for resolving their differences, and, hopefully, reach agreements. At that point, the attorneys will work on the Final Decree of Divorce, and other closing documents, and, once the parties have reviewed, revised, and signed these documents, they are ready to be presented to the Court. Under Texas law, once the Court is initially notified that the parties have elected to use Collaborative Law to resolve their divorce case, the Court has to give the parties time to work on the case.

I’m a charter member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas. Their website contains a lot of additional information regarding Collaborative Law, and how it is similar to and different from more traditional, litigation-oriented approaches. You can find that information here. For more information feel free to set a consultation with one of our attorneys by contacting us at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers. You can also check out one of the following books:

Stay tuned for the last post in this series, which will discuss the Texas, or team, model, the roles of the various professionals, and questions many folks have about Collaborative Law.