Collaborative Law Process is defined by the § 61.55, Fla. Stat. (2016) as “a unique non-adversarial process that preserves a working relationship between the parties and reduces the emotional and financial toll of litigation”
This is a great basic definition, but there is much more to the Collaborative Law Process.
The Collaborative Law Process starts when both parties in a family law dispute agree that they wish to resolve any disputes in a fair, confidential, efficient and non-adversarial process. The Collaborative Law Process does more than reduce the toll of litigation, it completely avoids litigation. Collaborative Law cases are resolved by a team, not a judge. The court system becomes involved only after an agreement is reached. The team consists of two attorneys, a financial neutral, a mental health neutral (the professional team) and the two parties. All team members sign a collaborative agreement that prohibits the professional team from participating in litigation if the collaborative process breaks down. The professional team members must maintain confidentiality, and cannot testify as to the negotiations that occurred. This guarantee of confidentiality encourages the parties to be open and honest in their negotiations.
The parties agree to exchange and keep current, all financial information. The financial neutral gathers information and makes recommendations to the team regarding financial issues. This process saves considerable time and money. Additionally, the financial disclosure made during the Collaborative Law Process remains confidential. This confidentiality continues even after the case is finalized.
The mental health neutral assists with issues related to the children, facilitates communications during team meetings, and helps the parties develop conflict resolutions skills.
The attorneys assist the parties with analyzing their choices and consequences. Although the attorneys work as part of the team, the primary responsibility of the attorneys is to protect the interests of the client.
Collaborative cases often cost more up front, but are more cost effective in the long-run. The parties are able to use one financial expert, and one mental health expert. Additionally, because there is no formal discovery, there is no need for depositions, subpoenas, hearings, or other expenses that arise in litigation. Both parties have full access to the finances of the other.
The Collaborative Law Process, by its very nature, encourages parties to work together to resolve their differences. This process provides the parties with tools to solve their differences in a non-contentious manner. Litigation, by contrast, forces the parties into conflict. This conflict can often further damage strained relationships, causing long-term damage and resentment.
The Collaborative Law Process is more efficient and quicker than litigation. A trial judge is responsible for hundreds of cases. Hearing time often takes months to schedule. A contested divorce can take years to resolve. Because the Collaborative Law Process takes place outside of the court system, cases can often be resolved in as little as three or four months.
Another major advantage of the Collaborative Law Process is the transparency of information for both parties, as well as the ability to research and solve issues between team meetings. Judges often do not have all of the information relating to a case, or the time to fully consider every aspect of an issue. The collaborative team, is often better informed, and has more time to deliberate and solve problems.
The Collaborative Law Process gives the parties direct input and control over the process which is another major advantage. The final resolution of a collaborative case must be acceptable to both parties. There is no winner; and there is no loser. A final result that is acceptable to both parties encourages cooperation and greatly decreases the possibility of future litigation.
Tristan Sanders has completed collaborative law training and is a member of The Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida. The Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida, was established in 2004. In addition to providing extensive initial training for its members, The Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida requires continuous participation and training in the Collaborative Law Process and maintains standards of practice.
Collaborative Law, although in existence for several years, became recognized by the Florida Legislature on July 1, 2016, with the enactment of § 61.56, Fla. Stat., (2016). The Supreme Court of Florida then approved collaborative rules, effective July 1, 2017. The collaborative process in now officially recognized and governed by the Florida Judicial System.
The Collaborative Law Process promotes the resolution of family law matters, in an efficient, fair, non-adversarial manner. It should be considered by everyone as an alternative to litigation.