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What is Collaborative Practice?

by Michael Tobriner

What Is Collaborative Practice?

Collaborative practice is a method of resolving family law matters using a structured negotiation setting, without going to court. In collaborative practice, which is also known as collaborative divorce or collaborative law, each party is represented by his or her own lawyer. Both parties and both lawyers, often also with divorce coaches or other professionals, meet together to develop information, identify interests and goals, and formulate solutions to the problems presented.

Collaborative practice is:

  • Voluntary. Participation in collaborative practice is completely voluntary. No court, no judge, and no law can require anyone to select collaboration.
  • Confidential. The parties, attorneys, and other professionals participating in a collaborative case sign a formal agreement to hold all communications and documents entirely confidential, so that nothing that transpires in the collaborative process can be used in any legal proceeding. Courts will enforce these confidentiality agreements.
  • Non-adversarial. Collaborative practice is a serious, good-faith effort to find productive, useful solutions to family law issues. While disagreements and differing viewpoints are expected, hostility, attack, belligerence, and bad faith are unacceptable.
  • Open and transparent. Parties in collaboration voluntarily provide all information and documentation needed to address the issues at hand. Nothing is hidden or concealed. All negotiations are in the open. Attorneys do not negotiate out of the parties’ presence.
  • Interest and goal based. Parties, with the assistance of attorneys and divorce coaches, identify their interests and goals, both personal and financial, so that, working together, the collaborative team (parties, attorneys, and coaches) can develop solutions that address those goals and interests.

How Did Collaborative Practice Begin?

In the 1990’s a small group of family law attorneys who felt that litigation was a destructive and harmful method for resolving family law cases got together to try to find a better way. Eventually these attorneys developed a model for collaborative practice that has evolved into the method used today. Collaborative practice has become a vital and growing movement in family law throughout the United States and abroad.