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Wendy Emerson
/ Categories: By George H. Gray

Collaborative Divorce

What is Collaborative Law?

Part I

            In a divorce or separation, collaborative law can be used to resolve all issues including financial and parenting.  The essence of collaborative law is for the parties and their attorneys to sit down together at a table to reach a reaosnable resolution of their issues.  Both parties and their attorneys sign what is called a “Participation Agreement” which, among other things, states that the lawyers must disqualify themselves from representing their clients in any litigation.  The parties also agree to provide early voluntary disoclosure of all information that a reasonable decision maker would need to make an informed decision about each issue in dispute.

            Locally, there is a group of professionals who have joined together to form the “Collaboartive Law Association of the Rochester Area” (“CLARA”) including Attorneys, Child Specialists, Mediators, Mental Health and Financial Specialists.  All of the professionals have undergone a number of hours of training and only those who have been trained are full members of the group.  The local training was first provided in 2001 and Roberta Feldman was a part of that first group of attorneys to participate.

            As with any attorney, the Collaborative attorney advises his or her client about the legal issues of their particular case.  The Collaborative attorney provides much more to their clients and is able to help both clients achieve creative options and solutions to the issues at hand.

            The Collaborative attorney helps their clients arrive at solutions that are best for the entire family; foster empathy, teamwork and cooperation within the “team” (which builds a foundation for meaningful communication between the parties in the future, especially important when there are children involved); gives advice and counsel relative to the legal issues; assist clients in a healthy transition to a new family dynamic and allow the clients to respect themselves and their former spouses.

            The collaborative process allows for creativity and “ownership” of the solution.  Resolutions that are meaningful and workable for each individual family make much more sense than court-imposed solutions which are often a “cookie cutter” approach.  The parties can determine their own time-frame and pace, such that we are not required to adhere to a court-imposed schedule.  If more or less time is needed, the meetings can be re-scheduled to suit the group.

            The parties and their attorneys decide together whether any other specialists should be brought into the group to assist with specific issues such as parenting, communication or financial.  The meetings can be expanded to include the additional professionals or the parties can meet with the professionals together or individually outside of the presence of their attorneys.  This often results in a financial savings.

            If there are evaluations or appraisals needed, the parties and their attorneys together agree upon an expert, whether it be an accountant, actuary or real estate appraiser, to provide specific information.  The costs of said experts is discussed and a decision on the expense to each party is agreed upon at the collaborative law table.

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