What is collaborative divorce in New York?

Collaborative law is a process where couples, and their lawyers, agree to settle their differences without the courts or threatening to litigate.  This is accomplished by everyone signing an agreement to work together in a cooperative or collaborative fashion, to iron out all the details that need to be settled in a divorce (or other family law issue such as spousal support, child support, or custody).  Compliance with collaboratively made agreements is higher than settlements or orders that emerge from litigated divorces.  What this means is that the need for future litigation and court processes are less likely for people that go through a collaborative divorce than a litigated case.  Couples that go through a collaborative case can often stay friends, even after they are no longer married.  The stress on the children of divorcing couples is minimized in this method.

A usual first step for someone interested in a collaborative law divorce is to find a collaborative law attorney that they wish to use on the case.   I happen to be a Long Island collaborative divorce attorney, although I work all over the area.  A lawyer that is properly equipped to work on a collaborative law case should have substantial matrimonial law experience.  The lawyer should have undergone extensive collaborative law and mediation training as well.  One sure way to find a lawyer that has the right credentials to work on a collaborative law case is to select one that is a member of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals.  Member lawyers have been screened to ensure that they have the right background and training to handle a collaborative law case.

The lawyers do not use adversarial methods in this process.  Clients have the benefit of being represented by a lawyer at all times.  Some people feel that they need the representation and advice of a lawyer through the whole divorce process, which they might not get in mediation.  The parties in a collaborative case however have decided that they do not want to battle in court as is often a part of the traditional litigation model.  The lawyers that work on the collaborative case are not permitted to continue on the case if later there is litigation.  This helps to ensure that everyone is committed to the collaborative process.  The professionals that work on the case are able to deal with the legal, financial and emotional aspects that are part of a divorce.  For people who are not interested in an adversarial divorce, collaborative law could be the alternative approach they are seeking.

Each spouse needs to retain a collaborative lawyer.  The attorney that one party retains can provide names of other lawyers that are members of the Association so that the spouse can speak with and decide on the lawyer that is right for them.   Besides lawyers, other members of the association are financial professionals that can be used as neutral experts or mental health professionals that often work as divorce coaches or child specialists in the process.  These financial or mental health professionals are often helpful individuals to have on the collaborative team that works on a collaborative divorce.

The lawyers and parties all work together, in a cooperative or collaborative process, rather than oppositionally as in the traditional adversarial litigation model.  Communication is an integral part of the process in a collaborative case.  Parties going through the divorce have meetings with their own lawyers and the other professionals that are a part of the team on their case.  The final agreement is crafted through a series of group meetings where both parties, their lawyers, and the other professionals that might be a part of the case are present.  Since this divorce method is non-adversarial, a safe place is created to facilitate agreements that will last and work for both parties.

An overview of the steps of a collaborative divorce could be described as follows.  First, everyone needs to commit to the collaborative process.  Then what it is important for everyone in this case is set forth.  The concerns and questions that exist for this case need to be identified.  Information to help address the concerns and goals is then gathered and organized.  Once all the information is assembled, everyone needs to brainstorm so choices can be evaluated.  Finally, what choices can both parties agree upon to craft the settlement agreement for this case needs to be discussed.  There are details to each step of the process which will be the subject of future blog entries.

If you are in interested in the collaborative law process, feel free to reach out to discuss it.  It would be my pleasure to speak with you about it.

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