1. Creative Settlements: Most cases settle (95%+) before trial, but most of the clients’ money is spent preparing for a trial that will never occur, or if it does, it will be after thousands of dollars have been spent and sometimes years have passed; in the Collaborative Process, the parties’ resources are used to find a creative solution to bring their dispute to a timely, cost efficient, and mutually satisfactory conclusion.
2. Interest-Based Negotiation: Your interests are met by changing how you and your attorney negotiate in the case. Interest-based negotiation addresses what each client’s interests and goals are, and the team, along with the clients, work on ways to achieve those interests. The clients agree that they will not go to Court or threaten to go to Court while they are engaged in the Collaborative Process. This results in the team of professionals and the clients creatively working through the issues in the case together rather than inefficiently fighting against each other.
3. The Team: The team includes specially trained lawyers and a neutral communications coach and a neutral financial professional. The communications coach trains the clients in methods to communicate the clients’ interests so that they will be better received by the other client. When there are children in a case, the communications coach helps the couple negotiate their time with the children and the sharing of the rights and duties to enable the couple to effectively co-parent. The financial professional assists the clients in developing their post-divorce budgets and develop an inventory of their assets and liabilities to enable the clients to create options that will most effectively meet their interests. Because there are not “dueling” experts, the couple’s resources are more efficiently used to resolve their case.
4. The Process: The clients each hire his or her own collaboratively trained attorney, then the attorneys engage the appropriate neutral professionals for the couple, then a series of joint meetings and “offline” meetings are scheduled. At the offline meetings, the neutrals meet with the clients to develop the parenting plan and their budgets and inventories, then the couple and the team meet for joint meetings to discuss the clients’ interests and options to meet those interests. Upon an agreement being reached, the attorneys draft the Agreed Decree of Divorce, which is reviewed by the attorneys and clients, then presented to the Court in a short, five minute or less hearing.
5. Litigation Compared and Contrasted with Collaborative Law: Unlike litigation, the Collaborative Law process is not adversarial, does not have written discovery or depositions, temporary orders hearings, or a contested trial. The Clients in Collaborative Law agree contractually not to go to court or even threaten to go to court while they are in the Collaborative Process. Clients agree contractually to informally exchange all documentation and information that is necessary to settle their case. Clients are trained in interest-based negotiation, which give them the tools to actively participate in the negotiation of their case. When, after a series of meetings, the Clients have reached an agreement in their case, the attorneys draft the decree and one or both Clients and their attorneys present it to the Court for entry (the judge signs his or her signature approving it) in a short non-adversarial hearing. If the case is not settled, the attorneys withdraw and the Clients engage litigation counsel. This requirement allows the lawyers to be focused completely on assisting the parties in reaching a settlement, taking breaks if necessary, and returning to the negotiation table with creativity that in most cases results in satisfactory settlement for the Clients. Every member of the Denton County Collaborative Professionals has worked and continues to work in litigation. Each member will tell you that litigation has its place in dispute resolution and that we are proponents of it in some cases. But every member of DCCP will also tell you that, given the option, for most families, the collaborative process is a healthier alternative to the resolution of their case than litigation.
6. Mediation: Mediation, like the collaborative process, is a voluntary dispute resolution process. It can be ordered by the Court, but no one can be forced to settle their case in mediation or in the collaborative process. Mediation in Texas is usually the “caucus method,” which means that each party and his or her attorney meet in separate rooms for a day and a mediator goes back and forth between the rooms in an effort to help the parties reach a settlement. Unfortunately, mediation is typically done with time and financial pressure to finish in that one day. Mediation does not offer the parties’ time to really step away and consider the consequences of their decisions, often resulting in the parties’ later displeasure with their settlement agreement, which attorneys and mediators refer to as “buyer’s remorse.” In contrast, in collaborative cases, the clients meet for two hour joint meetings, then have time away from the pressure of the meetings to consider if the tentative decisions they made are the right ones for them and their families. Sometimes, the clients may ask for a slight change in the agreement, after thinking about it outside the meeting, but even then, the parties have, by that time, been trained sufficiently in interest-based negotiation so that they are able to work through the last details and have an agreement that will be durable and lasting. If, in rare occasions, there are issues that cannot be resolved in the collaborative process, a collaboratively trained mediator can be brought into the case to assist the team and the parties in resolving any unresolved issues, which most clients believe optimal to “going to Court” for the Judge to decide the issues in their case.