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What are Collaborative Law, Collaborative Practice, the collaborative process, and Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative Law, Collaborative Process, and Collaborative Divorce are terms often used interchangeably. However, they are all components of Collaborative Practice, which has these key elements: the voluntary and free exchange of information; the pledge not to litigate, and the commitment to resolutions that respect the parties' shared goals. Collaborative Law describes the legal component of Collaborative Practice, made up of the parties and their attorneys. Collaborative Process means the key elements of the process itself.

While “Collaborative Divorce” refers to resolution of particular types of disputes (divorce and domestic partnerships), the other terms can also apply to disputes involving employment law, probate law, construction law, real property law, and other civil law areas where the parties are likely to have continuing relationships after the current conflict has been resolved.

What is the difference between Collaborative Practice and Mediation?
In mediation, an impartial third party (the mediator) facilitates the negotiations of the disputing parties and tries to help them settle their case. However, the mediator cannot give either party legal advice, and cannot be an advocate for either side. If there are solicitors for the parties, they may or may not be present at the mediation sessions, but if they are not present, the parties can consult their counsel between mediation sessions. Once an agreement is reached, a draft of the settlement terms is usually prepared by the mediator for review and editing by the parties and counsel.

Collaborative Law was designed to allow clients to have their solicitors with them during the negotiation process, while maintaining the same commitment to settlement as the sole agenda. It is the job of the solicitors, who have received training similar to the training that mediators receive in interest-based negotiation, to work with their own clients and one another to assure that the process stays balanced, positive and productive. Once an agreement is reached, it is drafted by the solicitors and reviewed and edited by the both solicitors and the parties, until both parties are satisfied with the document.

Both Collaborative Practice and mediation rely on the voluntary and free exchange of information and a commitment to resolutions that respect the parties' shared goals. If mediation does not result in a settlement, the parties may choose to use their counsel in litigation, if this is consistent with the scope of representation upon which the client and solicitor have agreed. In Collaborative Practice, the solicitors and parties sign an agreement, which aligns everyone’s interests in the direction of resolution, and specifically provides that the collaborative attorneys and any other professional team members will be disqualified from participating in litigation if the collaborative process is terminated without an agreement being reached. Professional advice should be sought when deciding whether mediation or Collaborative Practice is the best process for any individual case.

What is a "Collaborative Team?"
The premise of the "collaborative team" is that parties and their chosen professionals act as a problem-solving team rather than as adversaries. A collaborative team can be any combination of professionals that the parties choose to work with to resolve their dispute. It can be just the parties and their collaborative solicitors, which in all cases comprise the Collaborative Law component of Collaborative Practice. It can be the parties, their collaborative attorneys and a financial professional. It can be the parties and divorce coaches, working as a team either before or after the collaborative attorneys are chosen and the legal process begins.

What is the difference between Collaborative Practice and conventional divorce?
A: In conventional divorce, one spouse sues the other for divorce and sets in motion a series of legal steps. These eventually result in a settlement achieved with the involvement of the court. Unfortunately, spouses going through a conventional divorce can come to view each other as adversaries, and their divorce as a battleground. The ensuing conflicts can take an immense toll on the emotions of all the participants, especially the children.

Collaborative Practice, by definition, is a non-adversarial approach to divorce. The spouses—and their solicitors—pledge in writing not to go to court. They negotiate in good faith, and achieve a mutually-agreed upon settlement outside of court. The cooperative nature of Collaborative Practice can greatly ease the emotional strain caused by the breakup of a relationship, and protect the well-being of children.

What does Collaborative Practice do to minimize the hostility often present in divorce?
A: Collaborative Practice is guided by a very important principle: respect. By setting a respectful tone, Collaborative Practice encourages the divorcing spouses to demonstrate compassion, understanding and cooperation. In addition, Collaborative professionals are trained in non-confrontational negotiation to help keep discussions productive. The goal of Collaborative Practice is to build a settlement on areas of agreement, not to perpetuate disagreement.

How does Collaborative Practice actually work?
A: When a couple decides to pursue a Collaborative Practice divorce, they each hire Collaborative Practice solicitors. All of the parties agree in writing not to go to court. Then, the spouses meet both privately with their solicitors and in face-to-face discussions. Additional experts, such as divorce coaches and child and financial specialists, may join the process, or in many cases, be the first professional that a client sees. These sessions between spouses and their counselors are intended to produce an honest exchange of information and expression of needs and expectations. The well-being of any children is especially addressed. Mutual problem-solving by all the parties leads to the final divorce agreement.

Is Collaborative Practice a faster way to get a divorce?
A: Individual circumstances determine how quickly any divorce process proceeds. However, Collaborative Practice can be a more direct and efficient form of divorce. From the start, it focuses on problem solving, not blaming or endlessly airing grievances. Full disclosure and open communications help to assure that all issues are discussed in a timely manner. Finally, because settlement is reached out of court, there is no waiting for the multiple court appointments that may be necessary with conventional divorce.

How does Collaborative Practice focus on the future?
A: Divorce is both an ending and a beginning. Collaborative Practice helps each spouse anticipate their needs in moving forward, and include these in the discussions. When children are involved, Collaborative Practice makes their future a number one priority. As a more respectful, dignified process, Collaborative Practice helps families make a smoother transition to the next stage of their lives.

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