8 Steps to Using the Collaborative Process
As an alternative to litigation, the Collaborative Process offers the parties an opportunity to work together to reach an amicable resolution of the family law issue before them, whether it is divorce, a Premarital Agreement, post-divorce issues, or anything between. There are many benefits to going this route, particularly since the team of professionals focuses on mutually beneficial outcomes instead of advocating for one side or the other. While each Collaborative Process is tailored to the specific needs of the parties, here are the typical steps involved.
Step 1: Reaching the Decision
While beneficial, the Collaborative Process cannot happen unless both parties agree to use the process. So, as a first step the spouses must discuss and agree to participate in the process. By coming to this initial agreement, the parties set themselves on the right track.
Step 2: Hiring Counsel
Once the parties have agreed to use the Collaborative Process, they must each hire collaboratively-trained and experienced attorneys to represent and counsel them in the process. Each party has their own attorney who provides advice and guidance on how to proceed. Each side must have their own attorney to ensure there is a balance of power. One attorney cannot represent both parties, or in a similar vein, the Collaborative Process cannot occur if only one party hires counsel. Once retained, the two attorneys will work with one another and their clients to decide what other professionals might be needed to assure success based on the parties’ circumstances.
It is all too common that a party will not learn about the Collaborative Process until they first meet with an attorney, or sometimes not until they are already going down the route of another process like litigation. That is fine! The parties can switch to the Collaborative Process at any time, though that requires both parties to agree and like above, to have counsel that are Collaboratively trained.
Step 3: Hire the Team
The Collaborative Process often includes a team of professionals who advise and facilitate the many aspects of family law including division of assets, custody of the children, and financial support. These can include mental health professionals as coach(es), financial neutrals, and a parenting coordinator.
Step 4: First Team Meeting
To launch the work of coming to an agreement, the Collaborative Team has a meeting so that all of the people involved know one another, and the parameters can be set for moving forward. Often, work will have begun on some aspects of the process, with the parties already in contact with the members of the Team, setting up appointments, and beginning to gather information needed to help make the Team meetings productive. Often, the first Team meeting is used to set the foundation for further meetings, identify the issues to be resolved, and to help address immediate short-term issues so that the status quo is maintained while the Collaborative Process is running its course.
Step 5: Gathering Information
In order to have a detailed agreement that properly resolves the many issues in play, the team needs to work with the parties to gather information. This can include paperwork as well as interviews, counseling, and working with the children. During this period, there may be additional team meetings to move the process forward. In more complex cases, other experts may be brought into the fold, such as business valuation experts if a business is owned.
Step 6: The Agreement
With information in hand, the parties meet with the Collaborative Team to draft an agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of the issues requiring resolution. In addition to addressing all the relevant issues, this agreement must comply with legal standards. Once all of the information is gathered, the Team will discuss options and work to find a resolution that works best for the parties. Once this resolution is reached, the attorneys formally draft the agreement reflecting the terms.
Step 7: Legal Resolution
Once the parties have finalized their agreement, if the agreement needs to be incorporated into a court order, like when finalizing a divorce, then they will need to take steps to make sure the local procedures are followed. With a compliant agreement, the process is usually smooth and relatively speedy, but it still requires some work from the attorneys to make sure all steps are properly addressed, and that the agreement will pass muster by the Court.
Step 8: Wrapping Up
The Court Order can be a necessary precursor to certain actions such as the division of retirement assets and filing tax returns. Working with counsel, the parties follow the agreement to complete these steps while moving on in their new lives.
At Reese Law, we have a team of collaboratively trained and experienced counsel who can represent you in the Collaborative Process. Contact us for a consultation to learn more about whether this is the right option for you.