What Is Different About a Collaborative Law Case?
A collaborative law case is one in which the parties and their counsel all commit to resolve the matter out of court. If a court case was previously commenced, a stipulation can be filed with the court to take the case “off line” into a collaborative settlement process. During the collaborative settlement process, the court is not asked by either party individually for any court-ordered relief. When settlement is achieved, the settlement papers for the collaborative family law matter will be filed with the court and become court orders on approval by the court. It is our experience that Colorado’s courts are supportive of collaborative settlement of cases, because Colorado families that use this process are likely to achieve resolution meeting the needs of the entire family and are substantially less likely to return for post-decree litigation than occurs in cases with litigation.
What Does the Collaborative Settlement Process Look Like?
The collaborative process will involve a series of collaborative team meetings to work on settlement of the case in an orderly manner. At each meeting of the full team, each party to the case will have benefit of advice of that party’s own collaborative counsel. Each party, with help from counsel, will discuss that party’s needs and interests in the matter, as the entire negotiation is an “interest-based” negotiation.
In addition to full team meetings, the parties can meet individually and as a couple with subject matter experts, such as a child specialist, financial expert or collaborative process facilitator. These meetings for parties with a specialist involve work to prepare for the subject matter of subsequent meetings, as well as to support each party’s ability to participate in the best fashion to achieve resolution and articulate fully any concerns of that party. In appropriate cases, the attorneys may recommend appointment of individual or joint coaches for the parties. In many cases, the collaborative divorce process facilitator will attend each collaborative team meeting. This can sound like a lot of additional professionals, but generally what happens with a collaborative case is the additional professionals are hired at the outset to promote settlement, rather than being hired when issues prove intractable or experts are needed for hearings.
A case plan is worked up at the start of the collaborative case, with each team member agreeing as to the plan. Each meeting has the agenda and duration agreed by the parties. Usually there are five or more meetings of two to three hours, with an agenda agreed and circulated prior to each meeting. After the meeting, notes are circulated reflecting the interim commitments and agenda for the next meeting.