In recent years, a trend has started which seeks to aid parties in resolving their disputes by coming to a settlement outside of the courtroom. No one is “winning” or “losing”; everyone is working together for the same stated objective: reach a compromise everyone can live with. This is collaborative law.
For divorcing spouses, there aren’t really any “winners” or “losers” anyway. A marriage is ending, and even if it’s for the best and the best way for all parties to move on, it’s still an enormously trying time in anyone’s life. Having to go to court again and again for motion after motion can just add to this stress and increase the conflict. There are often numerous and complex emotional issues that arise in the course of a divorce that cannot be rectified by a court of law. Filing a motion over who is going to get the quilt your Grandma made you as a wedding gift will end in someone having possession of the quilt, but it’s not going to make you feel better. However, if your objective is to reach a compromise, and truly discuss the larger issues that are really surrounding that quilt, then collaborative law may be the way to go.
When you agree to work collaboratively, you and your spouse will both retain separate attorneys who will help you reach settlement. There is an agreement that no one will file motions or be litigious. Rather, the parties will work together and with their attorneys to discuss all the issues before them in the divorce (property disputes, a parenting plan, child support, and maintenance), and then come up with solutions that will address everyone’s need, ensure everyone has been heard, and ultimately work toward a compromise everyone is happy with.
The parties will sign an agreement stating that they intend to reach settlement through the collaborative process and then explain the nature of the issue to be resolved. Each party’s attorney will also sign the agreement. Should either party file a motion with the court during the pendency of the collaboration, the agreement ends immediately and the collaborative attorneys are discharged.
A team of individuals may be brought in to discuss all the different aspects of the dissolution. The parties agree to jointly use the same experts, and allow that expert to help them reach their objective. For example, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst may be brought in to analyze the parties’ finances and help come to an understanding about what would be an equitable split. A mental health professional may be used to help either or both parties deal with the situation. A child specialist may be brought in to help work with the children and explain to them what divorce is and what it will mean for them.
Collaborative law may not work for everybody. But if you and your spouse are both willing to give it a go, it might be the most efficient way (speaking in terms of time, money, and emotions) to settle your case.
To read more about Washington’s Uniform Collaborative Law Act, which was just passed into legislation this year, click here.