Litigation is the more traditional, and perhaps best known, approach to divorce. This practice area is highly technical and regulated by strict rules, time frames, and procedures. Each party hires their own attorney to advocate their interests. Negotiations occur throughout the litigation process between the attorneys with input from the clients, and the vast majority of litigation cases settle. However, if negotiations do not result in settlement then contested hearings and trials are set. Litigation allows the clients to leave most of the divorce proceedings in the hands of their respective attorneys and a judge. This approach is common in situations where each side wishes to have minimal interaction with the other, often in an attempt to minimize opportunities for conflict. In some instances, clients may never see the inside of a courtroom during their dissolution.
Mediation is also a well-known method of resolution and allows for each client’s direct participation in the process of negotiating resolution. In this practice area, the parties employ a neutral mediator who works with both parties to facilitate a mutually-satisfactory settlement. The mediator provides a forum for the parties to discuss their needs and goals respectfully. The mediator’s job is to facilitate an agreement, not to advocate one position over another. The mediator must remain neutral and cannot give parties legal advice. Parties can attend mediation on their own, or with attorneys.
Collaborative Law provides parties with a more formal process than mediation, but far less formal than litigation.
The Collaborative Law model is intended to facilitate a more respectful resolution to conflict by placing the power of resolution directly in the parties’ hands. This is accomplished through transparency, disclosure and open communication between the parties and the professionals involved. The result can be creative solutions not available through litigation, lower legal fees, and preserving amicable relationships. While the collaborative model is still unknown to many people, it has a proven track record of resolving cases in a manner that promotes following through on the agreements reached.
Similar to mediation, the collaborative approach employs a team of professionals that includes attorneys, parenting coaches, child development experts (when needed) and financial experts. They work with the parties in an open, non-litigious atmosphere. Litigation is not only discouraged, it is precluded. Upon choosing the collaborative approach, an agreement is signed by both parties that none of the information exchanged during the collaborative process can be used in court. In addition, should the case fall out of the collaborative scope, none of the collaborative team can be involved in future litigation of the matter.
Those who choose the collaborative approach do so because they want a civilized, respectful resolution that protects their children from the harm associated with divorce conflict. Collaborative parties value their privacy and do not want the details of their lives available in public records. They believe that the two parties will be able to make best decisions for their family, rather than handing over decision making about their future and their family to attorneys and Judges.
Proponents of the collaborative process cite that the open, private, and cooperative approach leads to better results more efficiently. It is true that agreements reached through open and respectful dialogue tend to result in higher satisfaction with parties, who in turn are more likely to follow the agreements since they had control over the terms. It is also true that in cases that are meant for the collaborative process, settlement can be reached with a much lower quantitative and qualitative cost.