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Frequently Asked Questions about Collaborative Law

Many people intrigued by the concept of mediation are unwilling or hesitant to proceed without an attorney, even with a neutral mediator present. Collaborative law offers a cooperative forum and yet retains the protections of individual representation. Contact an attorney experienced in collaborative law at our firm today to discuss your case.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Collaborative Law

Q: What is collaborative law?

A: Collaborative law originated in Minnesota as a way to remove a matter from the adversarial court process to allow the parties to reach a settlement cooperatively. The parties commit to work toward a resolution and each retains his or her own attorney. If the matter cannot be resolved through the collaborative law process and the case must go to court, the attorneys must withdraw from representation and each party must hire new counsel.

Q: Is the collaborative law approach used in areas besides family law?

A: Yes. In many areas of the country collaborative groups are developing processes to be used in other areas of the law such as business disputes, probate, environmental, personal injury, employment and corporate law.

Q: How is the collaborative process initiated?

A: To use a collaborative approach, parties should begin by contacting attorneys experienced in this method. With the aid of their attorneys, the parties can determine whether this process best fits their needs. Some factors that should be taken into consideration include the continuing nature of the parties' relationship, the level of emotional involvement, the need for prompt resolution and the desire for flexibility. Most importantly, the parties have to be committed and capable of working together towards resolution. If one party has more power, there is a history of abuse or the parties hold too much anger towards one another, the collaborative method may not be the best option. If one party has already filed papers with the court, the parties may request the case be placed on inactive status during collaboration.

Q: What if the case is over? Is it too late to use collaborative methods?

A: The answer depends on a number of factors, including whether the parties have an ongoing relationship. For example, after a final child custody and visitation order has been entered, one parent may experience a change in circumstance that necessitates modifying the order. The parties may wish to use the collaborative method to address these changes.

Q: What are the primary advantages of collaborative law?

A: Proponents of the collaborative process claim that shifting from an adversarial to a collaborative process saves time, money and relationships. By mutually committing to resolution, parties may avoid the time and expense of formal discovery and may in some instances have the settlement entered in court without having to appear personally. Also, unlike a neutral mediator, the parties' attorneys offer their clients legal advice, so parties may feel more equipped to enter a settlement.

Q: Are there disadvantages to collaborative law?

A: The collaborative law process assumes that parties are capable of working cooperatively. Both parties must find new counsel if collaboration stalls; critics claim that this may have a disproportionately burdensome effect when the parties involved have disparate resources and information. In other words, a party who enters the process in good faith may later be saddled with the expense of hiring a new attorney if, for any reason, final resolution cannot be reached collaboratively.

Q: What happens when the parties cannot agree?

A: If the parties have reached partial agreement, it may be possible to sign a binding settlement agreement governing the issues that have been settled. Sometimes, parties will choose to bring in a neutral third party to help them reach resolution of some or all issues. If the parties are wholly unable or unwilling to proceed collaboratively, the parties' attorneys must withdraw and the case can proceed to court. At that time, the parties will have to hire new counsel.

Q: Where can I participate in the collaborative process?

A: Since its inception, collaborative law has spread across the United States and into Canada and Europe. You can contact your local bar association for a list of attorneys who use the collaborative process.

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