Resolving Family Law Issues Through The Collaborative Practice

What Is Collaborative Practice?

The collaborative practice is a voluntary dispute resolution process implemented in all areas of family law, including divorce, custody and/or support (child, spousal, alimony, alimony pendente lite). The goal is to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement without the court deciding the issues for the parties and/or the parties' children. This agreement is formulated, negotiated and finalized through a series of four-party conferences. Mental health professionals and/or financial professionals may also be present at the conferences.

In the collaborative process, the parties are able to prioritize their issues and develop solutions tailored to meet their needs and the needs of the family. The collaborative process requires that both parties retain a collaboratively trained attorney, review and sign a participation agreement, and voluntarily disclose all information relevant to the matter. Good faith must also be practiced at all times, and the parties may jointly retain mental health experts and/or financial experts to assist in resolving the matter. For example, a mental health professional may assist in developing a parenting plan or coach the parties to increase their communication, and a financial professional may assist in discussing a budget for the newly formed households or potential tax consequences of asset distribution.

One important aspect of collaborative practice is that should either party commence with contested court proceedings, the process must terminate, the attorneys must terminate their representation and the parties must retain new counsel to assist them in court. Therefore, it is important that both parties are committed to the process before agreeing to proceed in this fashion.

What Are The Benefits Of The Collaborative Process?

It is possible that the use of the collaborative process can be less costly and take less time than the litigation process; however, this is directly dependent upon the parties' cooperation and willingness to work together to reach a resolution. The collaborative process can be more efficient since it focuses on solutions and a future outlook, as opposed to airing grievances and looking to past events. The paradigms of collaborative practice are respect, dignity, openness and fairness; therefore, the collaborative process can also minimize hostility in a direct, solutions-based environment. Further, since the parties must disclose relevant information early in the process and since the court is not involved, there is no waiting for court dates or proceeding based upon the court's schedule. Most importantly, the parties are able to decide how to best solve their issue(s) with the assistance of collaboratively trained attorneys and shared mental health and financial professionals, as opposed to the court prioritizing and issuing an order to decide the issues for parties and/or their children.

Attorney Karen W. Miller is certified in the collaborative practice, and can help you reach your objectives of resolving your family law issues while keeping the matter between the parties in an effort to keep your private family concerns out of court. If you live in Harrisburg or the surrounding Pennsylvania communities, call our Camp Hill firm today at 717-836-0471 to discuss your family law matter with a lawyer, or to schedule a free consultation.