Waldlaw Blog

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Collaborative Law

I'm just back from a 2-day intensive LGBT Collaborative Law training in New York -- my excuse for my delay in posting -- and feel the need to preach the gospel of Collaborative Law. For those of you who've never heard the term, collaborative law is a fairly new approach to conflict resolution which sits somewhere between mediation and litigation. With collaborative law, each party to the conflict is represented by counsel who are committed to advocating for their clients. However, the parties and their lawyers sign a written agreement to avoid litigation and remain at the table until every reasonable effort at resolution has been made. The parties and their lawyers meet together in a series of "4-ways," and make a serious effort to achieve resolution using the legal skills of the attorneys, the commitment of the parties, and outside help as needed from mental health professionals, financial professionals, or whoever else is necessary to reaching resolution. The process is driven by the parties themselves, who retain the power throughout the collaborative law process to identify the key issues, identify possible solutions, and agree or disagree on acceptable outcomes. The collaborative law process was arrived at as a more sane and humanitarian method of doing divorces. Instead of the divorcing spouses firing shots at each other from across a courtroom, they are encouraged to identify their issues and then work with their attorneys, child experts, financial experts and others as needed to resolve those issues in a way that does minimal damage to all concerned and -- ideally -- facilitates improved communication and a beginning of the healing process that they will have to go through at some point to be able to move on. Particularly where there are children involved, the point is clear: these folks have loved each other in the past, and are going to have to continue dealing with each other in the future, so let's help them heal their wounds and figure out how to co-parent together, how to be respectful of each other, how to function. The traditional divorce process definitely doesn't teach those skills. So now on to LGBT Collaborative Law. For many of my clients, the court process offers very little. The courts have not, traditionally, been particularly kind to us. They don't necessarily understand or respect our families, and even if they do the law provides limited protections to us since we largely live outside established legal structures. (E.g. we can't marry, so "divorce" is not an option for most of us, although that is changing in California with the new domestic partner laws.) Courts have not done a good job of protecting our children. In short, there has to be a better way. I think collaborative law offers the hope of finding that "better way." We can keep the conflict in the community, and any solutions will be driven by the parties themselves. If "the law" doesn't know how to handle the problem, we can bring in mental health experts, financial experts, child development experts to help us figure out our own solutions. And we can do it without wreaking havoc on each other and the larger lgbt community. Sound like a pipe dream? Maybe. But it certainly is worth a try.... For more info on Collaborative Law, visit www.collaborativepractice.com or, for California, www.cpcal.org. For more on the application of collaborative law to the lgbt community .... Well, I'm working on it, so check my website in the next few days or call/e-mail me!


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