Before Signing A Collaborative Family Law Participation Agreement

A settlement negotiated under the threat of litigation is much different from one negotiated in an atmosphere where the parties are free of the inevitable fears and anxieties related to potential, adversarial litigation. In 1990, the concept of collaborative family law was created by family lawyers in Minneapolis. It has spread rapidly throughout the United States, Canada and many other countries.

In contrast to the traditional "win-lose" philosophy of litigation, negotiations in the collaborative family law process are based on a "win-win" philosophy. By attempting to discover the future interests and goals of all family members, it can allow you to create a customized plan that comes as close as possible to meeting the needs of all family members.

The most important factor that dictates which direction a divorce will take is the nature of the skills that the lawyers for both parties and the neutral professionals have acquired through their formal training and experiences. The collaborative family law process has a greater likelihood of success when the team of professionals has completed training that teaches the necessary skills involved in representing and engaging with clients in collaborative conflict resolution.

Collaborative Training Required Through COACDP

All members of the Central Ohio Academy of Collaborative Divorce Professionals (COACDP) are required to complete certain types of these special skill building training courses before they can participate on any team cases. All members must complete:

  • 12 hours of basic mediation training
  • 12 hours of basic interdisciplinary team training on how to work together to give the parties and their children the most appropriate support services

All lawyer members must also complete an additional 12 hours of basic collaborative family law training. Experience has demonstrated that attorneys, financial experts and mental health professionals who have not completed these minimum training requirements do not really understand how to help a divorcing family effectively use the collaborative family law process. Our professionals understand how to help you obtain the best plan to restructure your financial and parenting relationships, while maintaining your personal dignity and self-respect throughout the process.

Traditional Divorce Model

It is true that nearly 90 percent of all contested divorce cases end up as settled, uncontested divorces, without an actual trial. But more often than not, both parties have invested 12 to 24 months or more of time and family emotional upheaval, plus many thousands of dollars in professional fees to prepare for a trial that will never take place.

A large percentage of marriages terminated through the dissolution of marriage process are settled (which involves dividing marital property, agreeing on spousal support, and, if minor children are involved, allocating parental responsibilities and child support) before any documents are filed in court. However, those negotiations are conducted under the continuing stressful threat that, at the whim of either party, the case may be escalated into adversarial litigation by the filing of a complaint for divorce by either person.

Although these cases are settled without the need for trial, more frequently than not, both spouses leave the marriage with a high degree of resentment, unresolved anger and "buyer's remorse" or "seller's remorse." The "collateral damage" to the children, which results from their exposure to parental conflict over an extended period of time, may not show up in the children's development for several years.

Different Process, Different Skill Set Required

In 2013, the Ohio Collaborative Family Law Act became law, and it provided official recognition and legal acceptance of the collaborative family law process as an available option for restructuring the financial and parental responsibilities of a divorcing family.

One of the most important features of this process is the requirement that the parties sign a Collaborative Family Law Participation Agreement, which contains mutual promises that neither you nor your collaborative family lawyers will threaten to go to court to resolve disputes. If either party does make any such threats, the collaborative process ends. Both lawyers must withdraw immediately and you effectively go back to square one, needing to find a new attorney to represent you and litigate your divorce through the court process.

Historically, the primary emphasis in the formal education and continued training of lawyers has been on developing competitive skills in adversarial "win-lose" results from negotiations and/or litigation that focuses on maximizing gain and avoiding loss for clients. Lawyers have been taught to treat most new clients as potential parties to future litigation as the standard form of dispute resolution, so they start thinking about preparing the client for future litigation to maximize the potential benefit for their client.

Initially, they do not think in terms of what it might take to satisfy the interests and goals of all parties that may be involved in the potential dispute. In other words, most lawyers who have not had the benefit of special training courses that develop skills in collaborative practice techniques view litigation as the primary approach to dispute resolution.

In contrast, when a new client walks into the office of a collaboratively trained family lawyer, the lawyer's first thought is how best to help prepare the client to work cooperatively with his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse. The goal is to begin to help the client understand that each party's concerns will be addressed and that the divorcing couple will be making all the final decisions. This lawyer also knows that the collaborative family lawyer for the other spouse will have exactly the same focus, because they have a common goal of helping their clients find common ground on difficult subjects. If they fail, they both lose their jobs.

In law school, cooperative approaches are rarely taught. That's why lawyers involved with the Collaborative Family Law process are required by our membership to first receive special training and continued skills development. This training involves a shift in perspective to interest-based negotiation and includes the team concept of providing the parties with not only legal services, but also the services of neutral financial experts, child specialists and divorce coaches. These allied professionals need to complete appropriate training as well.

Help From Trained Professionals

Be wary of any attorneys who state that they will work "collaboratively" to resolve your case unless they have taken training to learn to be Collaborative Family Law attorneys. Ask questions about their training. Our members have the skills to help you through the collaborative family law process. Send us a message to get started.