Unlike the traditional divorce process, collaborative law, which originated in Texas in 2001, allows parties to partake in a more civil and individualized process for ending their marriage. In 2011, the Uniform Collaborative Law Act became effective with the goal “to encourage peaceable resolution of disputes, with special consideration given to disputes involving the parent-child relationship, including disputes involving the conservatorship of, possession of or access to, and support of a child, and the early settlement of pending litigation through voluntary settlement procedures.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 15.001.
The collaborative law process gives parties the ability to take control of their divorce. In traditional litigation, parties often place blame on one another, whereas in collaborative law, the process is solution oriented and encourages parties to work towards a common purpose. Parties should not dwell on the past or the fault of the break up but rather focus on their future and both individual and mutual goals. In collaborative law, decision making is not left to a judge who is unfamiliar with the family and their unique situation; rather, the parties can work towards a result that will provide the most positive outcome for their specific set of circumstances. Collaborative law allows parties to recognize that, although their marriage may be ending, it is often important to maintain a healthy future relationship with their former spouse for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of their children.
In order for parties to utilize the benefits of collaborative law, both parties must sign an agreement stating they are willing to participate in the process. Both parties’ attorneys must be trained in the collaborative law method and neutral experts, also trained in collaborative law, are included to help with specific portions of the settlement process. Experts may include mental health professionals, child specialists, accountants, financial professionals or other experts in specific fields such as probate or oil and gas. These experts help aid in the process by providing an unbiased professional opinion to any issue where the parties may not otherwise agree. The use of the collaborative team allows the parties to formulate creative settlements that may not otherwise result from a litigation based method.
Since 2001, collaborative law and other dispute resolution methods have increased in popularity, both through parties and the courts, due to the fact that these methods promote an open exchange of ideas and solutions that often result in the settlement of the case. By using these methods, most family law cases ultimately settle before trial, thus saving the parties a significant amount of money and stress that could otherwise result from litigation. Collaborative law allows parties to remain civil and treat each other with respect while going through the often dreadful process of ending a marriage.