The Attorney's Role in the Collaborative Family Law Process
In the collaborative family law process, the attorney is not a neutral party. The collaborative attorney's role is as a resource, an educator, and an advocate for his or her client, and protector of the collaborative family law process.
The collaborative attorney must do the usual determination, identification and investigation of the issues surrounding the situation. The attorney must also anticipate conflict, manage the process, help identify the goals of the parties, and ensure that the client is aware of his or her legal rights and obligations at play.
A paper presented at the 1998 Annual Conference of the Academy of Family Mediators accurately summarized the roles and responsibilities of collaborative divorce attorneys as follows:
- advise their respective clients of the law which applies to their circumstances;
- promote and exhibit honesty, mutual respect ad dignified behavior;
- guide clients through a process of cooperative conflict by employing disagreement as a way to achieve creative solutions to problems;
- get to know their clients and establish a rapport with all of the parties involved in the process;
- foster respectful communication and listing skills for all parties in order to promote the interests of both sides;
- identify the issues and concerns of all parties;
- foster stability, reason and reality in emotionally charged situations;
- cooperate with one another and provide all necessary disclosure and discovery;
- assist the client in organizing disclosure documentation and in understanding the disclosure documentation from the other side;
- assist in analyzing the consequences of competing values and possible choices;
- respect the choices made by the client even if they are different from what the law may offer;
- employ clear and neutral language in both written and verbal communication;
- understand that the court is not an option and refrain from employing adversarial tactics and techniques; and
- remain committed to finding effective ways to assist the parties in reaching agreement and overcoming impasses by using mediation and neutral experts to provide a third opinion.
The attorneys are there as a reassurance to the other person that you are trying to solve our issues the best way you know how; and that you are doing it honestly.
The attorneys know all the laws and rules involving a divorce; they can help with the legal terms; they can make suggestions that you wouldn't have thought of otherwise; and, they can give you information and help you communicate better with your spouse. Because, even though they are representing you, trying to get you the good deal, at the same time they want to solve the case. And by helping you understand what is to be done, everything runs more smoothly because there is no confusion between the parties.
They are also there to help you keep what is really important in mind. The whole reason the collaborative family law process was set up was because lawyers were tired of seeing spouses argue over pots and pans and furniture - as though they were worth thousands of dollars. The main focus with the collaborative family law practice is keeping the peace between husband and wife after the process has been completed. Its focus is to see that the effect on children is as minimal as possible and that they will not be negatively affected for the remainder of their lives. The attorneys are there to help you keep that perspective, because sometimes it can be lost on a bad day.
With your collaboratively trained attorneys, it is easier to come to an agreement knowing that your best interest is kept in mind; that each side has an attorney and at the same time knowing that everyone is working towards a common goal - termination of the marriage - which is a difficult thing. And it should not have to be done in an adversarial process such as litigation in court.