Collaborative Law and Mediation offer clients the option of going through the process of separation or divorce, negotiating custody and support arrangements for children, and negotiating domestic partnership, pre- or post-nuptial agreements in a cooperative, respectful way. These processes are also suitable and effective for any other disputes, such as business disputes, negotiation of business contracts, disputes about estates and issues that arise from real estate contracts.
Clients are encouraged to consider their short and long-term goals (in divorce or separation cases where couples have children, long-term goals often include their wish to co-parent successfully and attend major events in their children’s lives together). In the traditional legal model, these are not considered to be “legal” issues, but they are very important to our clients. All parties agree to full and complete disclosure, and we use neutral, jointly retained experts.
In Mediation, the mediator acts as a neutral facilitator to help the parties come to an agreement in a respectful way. The Mediator does not provide legal representation for either party. Typically, the clients and Mediator are the only ones present during the mediation sessions, and clients can seek legal advice from attorneys between sessions and to review and advise them about the agreement. The Mediator’s role is to facilitate communication, help identify the issues to be resolved, help a party hear and understand what the other party’s concerns are, and work through different options to resolve the issues. Clients who feel comfortable negotiating without their lawyer present and need help with negotiations to work out the details of a settlement often choose mediation. Clients who want more support during the negotiations and between meetings, or where more complex issues are involved, often choose Collaborative Law.
The key element of Collaborative Law is that the negotiations take place in meetings where, at a minimum, both parties and their attorneys are present. The Collaborative Law model is interdisciplinary, and we have collaboratively trained financial specialists, child specialists, and process facilitators who join the team of professionals based on the clients’ needs. All clients and professionals sign a Participation Agreement, which commits everyone to working together, in good faith, to reach a durable, acceptable agreement.
The hallmark of the process is a commitment to work towards a negotiated settlement rather than resort to court. Although it rarely happens, each client retains the right to withdraw from the Collaborative Law process and go to court. If they do so, both parties’ attorneys are disqualified and the parties go to court with new attorneys. This feature ensures a cooperative, confidential negotiating environment, where neither party uses withdrawal or court as a threat and the attorneys are committed to helping the clients reach an agreement.
Collaborative Law is not for all clients or all attorneys. However, clients who choose this process benefit from a generally faster and less expensive process than litigation. In addition, the chances of successful co-parenting and a civil relationship between former spouses or partners are greatly increased.
For more information about the local Collaborative Law group, contact the Ithaca Area Collaborative Law Professionals at www.collab-law.com or the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) at www.collaborativepractice.com. The IACP website has information about the process and practice groups in other parts of the country and world.