One of the most concerning things I’ve found in my years of practicing family law – especially with my decision to move entirely away from litigation – is that not all lawyers who claim to be collaborative lawyers are actually Collaborative lawyers.
Some lawyers feel that the word “collaborative” has marketing value, and that it sounds friendly and welcoming, so they use that word without acknowledging that Collaborative law is a particular branch of family law with its own specific set of rules.
Collaborative law is a great option for couples that want to determine their own divorce settlement rather than leaving it in the hands of a judge, who value their privacy, and who don’t want to damage their co-parenting relationship.
But it’s an option that requires a lawyer who has specific training in the process, who knows how to work with a mental health professional and a financial professional as part of a Collaborative team, and who knows the rules about coming to a settlement via Collaborative law. This includes the important provision that if a couple decides to move from Collaborative law to litigation, they must replace their Collaborative lawyers with new lawyers – which guarantees that a couple’s Collaborative lawyers won’t just move the case into the courtroom if things get challenging.
If you’re pursuing a Collaborative divorce and you’re interviewing a lawyer who makes a claim to be Collaborative, the first thing you should do is ask about his or her Collaborative training and experience – and then ask to see the agreement that all parties will be required to sign when entering the Collaborative Process. The answers to those questions will go a long way toward showing whether the lawyer is Collaborative in practice or in name only.
Provided that you get a sense that you’re working with a Collaborative lawyer, the next step in an initial consultation is to be able to talk about what issues exist with respect to parenting time and finances. Though bringing in a mental health professional or financial professional isn’t required in all Collaborative cases, a good Collaborative lawyer should not only be able to determine whether they should be part of your team, but should also be able to recommend specific candidates based on past experiences. Personally, I do not handle Collaborative cases without using a mental health professional.
Finally, you should make sure you feel comfortable with the Collaborative lawyer you choose. After all, your Collaborative lawyer will be your advocate and partner in determining a settlement that achieves the best possible outcome for you, your assets, and your children, in a process that allows you to work with your spouse rather than fight with your spouse. It’s not always easy or quick to go through a Collaborative divorce, but if you have the right person in your corner, it can be a better process than you might initially fear.