Collaborative Family Law

Family Law Alternatives

Collaborative family law is a form of dispute resolution that can alleviate unnecessary suffering caused by the “win at all costs” trap in divorce litigation. The collaborative divorce process is preferred by a growing number of married couples today.

But is collaborative family law or a collaborative divorce process right for you?

Chris A. Spofford has represented many married couples going through the collaborative divorce process, and he has also helped many decide not to take that path. Chris will listen to your situation and help you decide the best path for you and the ones you care about the most in this trying time.

Here’s how the collaborative divorce process works

Parties, with their attorneys, contractually agree at the outset to settle any disputes without going to court. Attorneys for both parties agree to assist them in resolving conflict or legal issues using cooperative strategies, rather than the typical adversarial techniques, and without family law litigation.

To be “adverse” means to oppose, while “advocating” means speaking up for.

Advantages. Spouses avoid the lengthy, costly and intrusive discovery step in the litigation process by agreeing to disclose all the information required for a sensible, fair settlement. Usually, this results in a less destructive, more dignified divorce at a cost that can be much lower than a divorce disputed in court.

Non-adversarial participation by attorneys allows the parties and attorneys to use the more positive aspects of the legal process not often seen in adversarial proceedings, such as:

  • Rational analysis
  • Creative problem solving
  • Generating multiple options
  • Maintaining a positive context for settlement and
  • Building a foundation for long-term co-parenting

Attorneys associated with the collaborative family law and the collaborative divorce process are known as skillful practitioners who honor promises and practice in good faith. Since one of the tenets of collaborative family law is civility in a private setting, the long-standing relationship among attorneys in this group increases the likelihood of a successful settlement.

Taking the first step in the collaborative family law process

The first step in the collaborative divorce process is to determine what you have (such as assets and income) using an informal, trust-based “share and verify” approach. This is an improvement on the usual expensive and divisive legal procedures necessary in an adversarial proceeding to get this information. You are asked to disclose this information voluntarily and to verify it with documentation and tax returns. If an expert (such as a tax consultant or a pension evaluator) is needed, the choice is an agreed one.

At what are known as “4-way conferences,” the parties and their collaborative family lawyers (and sometimes other professionals) sit around a table and discuss the issues and seek ways to create or arrive at agreement. They brainstorm any and all possible solutions. All parties focus on ways to resolve the problem, whether it be time with your children or financial, instead of seeing the other party as the problem and attacking, which rarely works well.
Each spouse often starts seeing things more from their spouse’s position.

When you reach an agreement through collaborative law, one of the lawyers drafts legal documents to convert your  informal agreements into legally binding ones which are then submitted to the Court  without having to go through a long court hearing.

What happens if a settlement can’t be reached?

If the parties cannot arrive at a settlement through the collaborative law approach, the collaborative lawyers withdraw from the case and you are free to hire trial attorneys to tackle your issues in court. That way, you will have had the best representation for each phase of the proceeding.

Any person approaching a divorce situation should talk with a collaborative lawyer to get an assessment of his or her situation to see if it might be settled without litigation. The earlier this is done, the more chance there is for the other party to be oriented toward a settlement approach.

No matter what approach is chosen, a collaborative lawyer is a valuable ally.

Contact Chris Spofford to explore the possibility of collaborative family law or collaborative divorce to help you through your difficult situation. Chris was one of the first lawyers in Texas to be trained in collaborative family law. He has participated in numerous Family Law cases using the collaborative model. He is a member of the International Association of Collaborative Professionals and is a member of the first Collaborative Law practice group formed in the Houston area.