Collaborative Law

'Collaborative Law' is essentially an alternative dispute resolution procedure where the disputing parties are represented by counsel, but the goal of the parties' attorneys is to facilitate negotiation and settlement. If parties sign on to this path, they agree that they will not pursue litigation.

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What Is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative law is an alternative dispute resolution procedure in which the parties agree to forgo litigation and resolve their disputes amicably through a series of negotiations. Collaborative law procedures for divorce in North Carolina are found at N.C.G.S. § 50-70 et seq. Collaborative law procedures for all other civil disputes in North Carolina are found at N.C.G.S. §1-641 et seq.

It is believed that the collaborative law process is ideal for family-related disputes (family law, estates, close corporations) because an overarching goal of the procedure is to streamline resolution of the dispute and preserve relationships among the parties and extended family members.

A collaborative law proceeding begins when their parties and their attorneys, who have received collaborative law training, sign a collaborative law agreement. The principal provisions of the agreement are that the parties and their attorneys will not resort to court proceedings, that if the process fails and the parties do proceed to litigation, their collaborative law attorneys will withdraw and not participate in the litigation. The parties and their collaborative law attorneys also agree to disclose all information necessary to the proceeding voluntarily. For example, in the typical adversarial litigation, if one party wants information on another party's financial assets, the requesting party must make formal requests and the providing party can object so that the search for information itself becomes an adversarial process. The collaborative law agreement requires that all parties disclose all necessary information relative to the dispute voluntarily without requests. The aim is for full unhindered transparency early in the process.

While a collaborative law attorney will advise his or her client on legal issues, the collaborative attorney is not going to "advocate" his or her client's position at the negotiation sessions. Instead, the collaborative law attorneys act as facilitators with the goal of the parties talking to each other and settling issues among themselves. In the ideal process, the parties themselves will arrive at the path to resolution.

Collaborative law proceedings can include expert neutrals if needed, such as therapists, financial experts or mediators. Again, these experts are used, not to support a party's position, but to render true neutral opinions on given topics, for example, the valuation of a business.

The main advantage to collaborative law procedures is that they are anticipated to last less than a year while most civil litigation can last anywhere from two years on. Collaborative law procedures are not inexpensive, but a retainer for litigation is anywhere from six thousand and up, with no guarantee that that amount will be enough to complete the litigation. Finally, without the inordinate time and stress of courtroom appearances, it is believed that parties will be better able to maintain their relationships and move forward.

Call me if you are interested in hearing more about this promising alternative dispute resolution technique!