Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Benefits of a Collaboratively Reached Agreement

I believe that in most cases a resolution of family law issues should not be treated the same as a lawsuit. However, when most family law matters go to court, this is exactly how they are handled. When your issues are resolved in the courtroom, you and the other party are adversaries. After “argument” the court will make a decision that you and the other party must follow. What would this look like if the resolution of the dispute was obtained through the Collaborative Process? Consider an example of two parents with two small children. Both parents want significant time with their children but they have differences about what the children need and what a good schedule is will be. If these parents go to court, they will necessarily have to present arguments to the Judge which pits them against the other parent, by trying to persuade the court why the children should be with them more than the other parent. This requires the parents to position themselves against the other. This frequently causes one or both parents to be negative about the other parent. Often litigation counsel will encourage their client to raise any possible negative history of the other parent, such as prior bad conduct to persuade the judge. Parties become angry and hurt by the statements made by the other, and in defending themselves, seek to bring up “dirt” on the other party. Declarations become clogged with accusations, misunderstandings, and sometimes blatent lies told in order to persuade a judge to agree with them. This kind of litigation can cause a dispute to escalate and change future ability of the parties to work together as parents.
In a Collaborative case, parties will work with attorneys and other professionals, who try to help the parties come to agreements without becoming adversarial. Parties will have assistance to find a way to bridge their differences and find a way to come to a resolution. Old issues and prior conduct which have no direct effect on parenting will not be part of the discussion. Parties will be able to discuss their goals and differences with the other party in a safe and respectful environment. There is opportunity to discuss the “why’s” and “how’s” of what each parent wants. This is a significant change in how families can seek legal resolution because they are not trying to persuade a single decision maker but trying to work together to come to a collaboratively crafted agreement which both parties can support. This difference alone can facilitate the decisions necessary to resolve family law disagreements. Family law disputes can be hard enough without fueling them with litigation tactics and this alone one of the best benefits of the Collaborative Process.