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Collaborative Law

Like mediation, collaborative law offers a non-adversarial way to resolve divorce cases.  It emphasizes mutual respect, honesty, candor, and the preservation of the dignity and well-being of not only the parties, but also the entire family.  The goal is to craft a creative and sustainable resolution that satisfies the important needs of both parties.

Unlike mediation, where the mediator meets with both parties but must remain neutral and cannot represent or advocate for either party, in the collaborative law approach the parties each retain their own attorney to advise them and advocate for them.  The collaborative law process consists of a series of informal team meetings where both parties and their respective attorneys are present.  These meetings may also include other professionals, such as financial planners and mental health professionals, as neutral and impartial participants.  The attorneys and these other professionals must be specially trained in the collaborative process, which is grounded in a mutual commitment to resolve outstanding divorce and custody-related issues equitably and without seeking, or even threatening, court intervention. 

The collaborative process is built on a commitment to open discussion in order to negotiate a mutually beneficial settlement.  There is limited confidentiality and negotiations focus on the best interests of the entire family.  Thus, it requires the creation of a safe setting where all parties feel free to openly communicate their respective needs and interests, share information, and discuss options.  For this reason, the code of ethical conduct prevents the attorneys who participate with you in this process from representing you, should you or the other party decide to go to court.

If you are concerned with maintaining amicable relations, mediation or collaborative law might be a good approach for you.  Both mediation and collaborative law offer greater flexibility and opportunity for creatively drafting resolutions that satisfy the needs of both parties, outside the constraints of what a judge might order.  As such, they tend to result in higher levels of compliance and client satisfaction.  The collaborative approach may make the most sense for you if you are undertaking an amicable separation and/or divorce where the financial and/or visitation pieces are especially complex.

Kelly Sweeney Hite has been fully trained in the collaborative law process, and is experienced in its application.

Frequently Asked Questions

If we try the collaborative law approach and then change our minds, can you then represent me at Court?

No. When we begin the collaborative law process, you and I will sign an agreement in which we commit ourselves to settling your case without court intervention. The agreement will explicitly state that I cannot be your attorney in contested court proceedings if either you or your spouse decides to go to court. Because the collaborative process requires full disclosure and involves 4-way meetings with your spouse and his or her attorney, I would be disqualified from representing you in court as I would have knowledge about the other party's case that would not otherwise have been disclosed, but for the collaborative process.

How is the collaborative process different from mediation?

In simple terms the collaborative process is one where both parties expressly sign an agreement to refrain from litigating. This is an open process, with limited confidentiality, and is focused on the attorneys, clients and possibly other third parties, such as financial advisors, working together as a team to resolve the matter in a way that is best for all involved, including any children. In mediation, the parties are working to resolve the matter, but there is no prohibition against litigation, as sometimes litigation occurs contemporaneously with the mediation process. Also, although mediation is supposed to be a cooperative process and include full disclosure, the rules of confidentiality are slightly different, and the attorneys (if involved) do not have the same requirements of complete candor with the opposing attorney and/or party. Further, it is permissible for a party to focus and base the negotiations on his or her own best interests, rather than the entire family.

Call (703) 766-0732 for more information or Schedule a Consultation with one of our Fairfax family law attorneys.