This week, two of my colleagues, Mary Binns-Davis and Jeff Molenda completed the collaborative law training in Arlington, Virginia. I’m very excited about this development since until this month, I was the only lawyer in West Virginia certified by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals to represent parties in collaborative divorce. This means that West Virginians could not enjoy the benefits of collaborative divorce. While I enjoy a wonderful relationship with a great group of collaborative professionals as part of my practice with the Collaborative Practice Group in Washington, it is great to be able to offer this option to folks living in West Virginia.
Now that West Virginians will have the option of hiring a lawyer to represent them in a collaborative divorce, what does that mean? Why would anyone want to choose this option? There are many advantages of collaborative divorce over litigation.
- Choice. You will be able to have your voice heard and you will be the one making the decisions, not a judge or third party.
- Less costly. Collaborative divorce is usually less costly than litigation. While some lawyers who accept your case for litigation may quote a low retainer, the retainer is only the initial fee. Since most litigated cases still settle before trial, the question becomes not if, but how and when you want to reach an agreement.
- Setting the pace yourself. Collaborative divorce allows you to set the pace. You choose the time and pace of your negotiations. If you want the pace to be fast, you’ll control it. Once you develop your agreement through the collaborative process, you typically file the agreement with your legal pleadings. In the jurisdictions where a a hearing is required, since the case is not contested it can usually proceed quickly.
- Less Stress. Most people have less stress with the collaborative process. With a more active role and decision-making capacity, most people find it less stressful than litigation.
- Good for the kids. Collaborative divorce is better for your family. You are working to find ways to resolve your conflicts over the children as you work through the process, providing you with tools to help you co-parent the children into their adulthood.
While collaborative divorce has been available in other areas for almost 20 years, it’s new to West Virginians. Since it’s new, there are also a few misconceptions.
- You do not have to be “getting along.” Some folks think that in collaborative divorce, you have to be already working things out and getting along. That is not the case. When the parties are getting along, they usually benefit from mediation. Collaborative divorce may still be a great option when you are not getting along with your spouse and can’t even be in the same room, so long as you agree on one thing: you want to make your own decisions about what is best for your children.
- You do not have to give any rights. Collaborative divorce will involve looking at things more broadly than litigation. We’ll be looking at your rights, including what the law may entitle you to, but we will also be looking at what you need. And we’ll be looking at what your children need. While we won’t ignore what the law entitles you to, we will be focusing on meeting the needs of the family.
- It is not an easy, soft solution to the divorce. Collaborative divorce is not easy. You are going to have to work to resolve a lot of the problems that brought you to the decision to divorce. However, in doing so, you will be creating a positive framework to move forward from. While collaborative divorce is not easy, it is certainly not as hostile, harmful or counter to your well being as litigation.
- Collaborative divorce is more expensive. Often in collaborative divorce, the parties retain a divorce coach and a financial neutral as part of the collaborative team. While this full team is not required in every case, it may expedite the agreement. These professionals may have a lower hourly rate than the attorneys, and the addition of their services may actually save money.
- Collaborative law is only for family cases. Many areas, such as civil litigation and medical malpractice have found ways to include the collaborative model practice. While most areas of the country still use collaborative law in family law, it is expanding into other areas.
If you are thinking about pursuing a divorce, you should meet with a lawyer familiar with all of the processes to address divorce cases: mediation, collaborative law, and litigation. You can find lawyers who are certified to accept collaborative cases at the IACP website. You can find lawyers are also certified mediators in family matters at these websites: West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. Please contact us for help deciding on the best course for you.