There are many ways to resolve disputes. Litigation is the traditional legal approach. In litigation, lawyers work hard to convince a judge (or jury) that his or her client`s version of reality is, in fact, correct. Often, this includes contradicting, or even belittling, the other party, and that person’s perception of reality. Trial is often compared to a battle, in which the best side wins. However, all lawyers understand that the “best side” doesn`t always win and that in many disputes, the party who “wins” at trial still loses in other ways. In some circumstances, litigation may be the only appropriate option. For example, if a party consistently hides information or is abusive, the formal procedures used in litigation may be necessary. If a party is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, the ultimate decision may need to be imposed by a judge. Litigation usually costs more than other forms of dispute resolution and the outcome is typically less satisfactory.
In mediation, a neutral professional assists the parties in settling the dispute. Generally, the parties agree that all information will be shared and that they are seeking a “win-win” solution. The mediator does not represent either party and the parties do not go to court. In some forms of mediation, representing attorneys serve only in a consulting or reviewing capacity. In other situations, representing attorneys participate in the mediation. Mediation can work well for parties who have the ability to communicate their needs directly to the other person and who are able to understand and analyze the information being presented.
Collaborative Practice combines the positive qualities of litigation and mediation. As in litigation, each party has an independent attorney who will provide quality legal advice and will assist in putting forward the client’s interests. Drawing from mediation, the parties and their Collaborative Attorneys commit to both an open information gathering and sharing process and a resolution of their differences without going to court. In addition, the parties can mutually agree to engage other professionals such as Child Specialists, Financial Specialists, Collaborative Coaches, Vocational Counselors or other neutral consultants to provide them with specialized assistance. The parties acknowledge that the best result for each of them will occur when they reach the best result for all of them.
The parties do not engage in expensive legal procedures to obtain information. The parties and their Collaborative Team agree from the beginning that they will share all necessary information and documents voluntarily and in a timely fashion. Hiding documents or engaging in unnecessary delays are not permitted. If a party is not acting in good faith and “hides the ball”, it is the duty of the collaborative professionals to work with the client to change his or her behavior and to withdraw if the behavior continues. If a party continues to refuse to act in good faith, the Collaborative Process can be terminated.
The parties decide what type of assistance is needed in the information gathering process and jointly engage consultants. For example, the parties can jointly hire a Financial Specialist to assist them in gathering and organizing financial information and to create projections for future financial possibilities. They can also jointly engage an appraiser to provide them with information and education regarding the ranges of value of a particular asset.
Attorneys are typically trained to approach cases with the underlying assumption that a judge will make the ultimate decision. Cases are analyzed with this foundation and are settled with the backdrop being “what will happen if we go to court.” “Going to court” can often become a weapon or threat that derails communication rather than moving the parties to settlement. Since settlement has not been the focus from the very beginning, cases often do not settle until the parties are “at the courthouse steps,” after incurring substantial attorney`s fees and depleting their emotional resources.
The agreement by both the parties and Collaborative Attorneys that the Collaborative Attorneys will not go to court focuses everyone on creative means of settling the case in a way that is acceptable to all parties. The focus of the process stays on reaching an agreement rather than preparing a case for trial since the Collaborative Attorneys will not be representing the parties in court. The tendency to “drift” to court as the default decision-making method is reduced.
In addition, the parties are assured of the commitment level of the Collaborative Professionals to the Collaborative Process by the requirement that the Professionals withdraw if the Process is terminated. Similarly, each party is assured of the strength of the other party’s commitment to achieve a resolution that is acceptable to both of them, as they would otherwise need to find new counsel and establish new working relationships if the Process is terminated.
Collaborative Practice works best for parties who wish to settle without going to court and are willing to commit to a good faith effort to do so. In Collaborative Practice, each party maintains control over his/her decision-making rather than having a judge decide about important details of his/her future. Parties also control the amount of information that becomes a part of the public record (normally, the entire divorce file is open to the public, including any allegations made by either party in obtaining temporary orders or at trial).
People in conflict often have continuing relationships with each other, as co-parents, business colleagues, or through their circle of friends and relatives, and their community. Collaborative Practice will increase the possibility of maintaining a civil or even cordial relationship with the other person after the resolution of the conflict.
Those who wish to dramatically reduce legal fees should also consider Collaborative Practice. A dispute that goes through the entire legal process, including a trial can cost more than $60,000 for each party. Formal legal procedures take much more attorney time (and your money) than the less formal process used in Collaborative Practice. The focus on settlement moves the case to resolution faster than the typical court-directed case, which also reduces fees.