There is a common misconception that Collaborative Law will only work, or will work best, when the parties start out in “near agreement” with each other. In other words, it works if the parties are very agreeable people and are close to a settlement. Actually, Collaborative Law works well for major disputes, including alimony, property division and special needs, as well as custody and visitation. Collaborative is a problem-solving process which is not limited or intended for just the easy cases.
In reality, Collaborative Law is excellent for tough issues, such as custody. Here's why it works:
1. Collaborative Law focuses on the underlying needs of both parties. Even if both parties start out saying they want “custody”, the professionals immediately ask questions such as what custody means to each party, what precisely each really wants and why they want that. Often that digging will lead to alternatives that can accommodate the true needs of each party.
2. Collaborative separates custody from finances. In litigation, it is fairly common for one parent to go for custody as a strategy to win financial concessions. It is not easy to sustain that insincere approach in a Collaborative case where there's a Mental Health Professional (MHP) and sometimes a Child Specialist. Custody issues are managed by focusing on each parent's true interests and the best interests of the children. There's no overlap with finances to give unfair leverage to one of the parties.
3. In Collaborative cases, we utilize the MHP for better behavior and communication. In litigation, the parties are free to act up and try to manipulate or bully or pressure each other. It happens all the time. In Collaboration, the MHP works with both parties to maintain a civil, respectful approach and to learn to listen and communicate better. That's just not done in litigation.
4. Collaborative Law cases (in Fort Worth/ Tarrant County) will also bring in a Child Specialist in some cases. The Specialist is a neutral expert who helps the parties create plans for how they will share time and responsibilities for children. They focus not just on their own desires, but also consider what is best for the children. In litigation, it often just turns into a tug-of-war over the kids.
5. Collaborative allows the parties to consider or create “non-guideline” solutions. In litigation, if the parties can't come to an agreement, the judge will usually impose guideline child support and guideline visitation. Those standard solutions are pretty good, but they don't fit all situations. When the parties can come up with pretty much any arrangement they want, they not only are more satisfied with the immediate results, but they tend to not fight as much in the future.
Not every case can be effectively handled by Collaborative Law, but custody cases can almost always benefit from the process. Don't write off the process yourself. Check with a trained, active, experienced Collaborative lawyer to find out if it might work for you. Before you get started, talk with a qualified attorney to see if Collaborative would be a good fit for your case.