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At Dewbury & Associates, P.C., we realize that our clients often wish that divorce didn't have to be such a difficult and adversarial process. We feel the same way. That is why we have introduced an alternative method of divorce resolution to our practice.

Known as Collaborative Divorce, it is a process that may just be perfect for those of you who believe you and your spouse can honestly work together towards the mutual dissolution of your marriage. To learn more, please read on.

• Collaborative family lawyers help resolve divorce, non-marital dissolution, prenuptial and postnuptial disputes without resorting to adversarial techniques or tactics

• Collaborative family lawyers try to understand both parties and to achieve a fair outcome not only for their clients but the family as a whole

• Our core principles are a "no-court" pledge, a cooperative model of negotiation, and the use of neutral experts, when necessary to resolve conflict

What is collaborative law?

All negotiations take place in four-way conferences between parties and their attorneys. Each party has built-in legal advice and advocacy during negotiations and each attorney is committed to guiding the parties toward a reasonable settlement. Because no one, neither the parties and nor the attorneys, can go to court or threaten to go to court, settlement is the only goal. The parties are encouraged and helped to communicate their real needs and interests. Through safe and focussed discussions, each of the parties is encouraged to recognize the needs of their children and the needs and interests of the other party.

What is the collaborative practice of law?

The collaborative practice of law is a way of practicing law whereby the lawyers for both of the parties to a family dispute agree to assist the parties in resolving conflict using cooperative strategies rather than adversarial techniques and litigation. Early nonadversarial participation by the lawyers allows them to use attributes of good lawyering frequently not utilized in the usual adversarial proceedings---namely use of analysis and reasoning to solve problems, generation of options and creation of a positive atmosphere for settlement.

How do lawyers operate in a collaborative law practice?

While no two cases or collaborative lawyers are alike, the emphasis in the approach is to find a way in which the lawyers can work with the parties that will achieve a satisfactory settlement in an efficient, cooperative manner. This might include "four-way" settlement conferences where the parties meet with their collaborative lawyers to work on settlement. Basically, however, your lawyers are committed to finding ways to achieve settlement that will work best in your case. Their philosophy is that as much effort should be exerted toward settlement as is traditionally spent in preparation for and conducting a trial.

What happens if settlement cannot be reached?

In the event the parties are unable to arrive at a settlement through a collaborative approach, the lawyers withdraw from the case and the parties are free to retain trial lawyers to pursue their matter in court.

Why should we consider retaining collaborative lawyers?

• This process is generally less costly and time-consuming than litigation.

• You are each supported by your lawyers and yet you work cooperatively with your spouse and their lawyer in resolving your issues.

• You retain control of the process. The process does not control you. The process is much less anxiety producing than court proceedings or the threat of such proceedings.

• Everyone can focus on settlement, without the imminent threat of "going to court."

• The possibility exists that the participants can create a climate that facilitates "win-win" settlements.

• The process is much less time consuming than the traditional litigation model. The case can be finalized within a short time after an agreement is reached---rather than getting bogged down waiting for court dates.

• Your case may be resolved with dignity, which may be of great benefit to the entire family.

• The parties and their lawyers work together as partners in the process, with the parties participating in a fully informed manner.

All acknowledge that the essence of “Collaborative Law” is the shared belief by the participants that it is in the best interests of parties and their families in typical family law matters to commit themselves to avoiding litigation. Therefore they adopt this conflict resolution process, which does not rely on a court-imposed resolution, but relies on an atmosphere of honesty, cooperation, integrity and professionalism geared toward the future well-being of the family.

The goal is to minimize, if not eliminate, the negative economic, social and emotional consequences of protracted litigation to the participants and their families. The participants commit themselves to the collaborative law process and agree to seek a better way to resolve differences justly and equitably.

No Court or Other Intervention

Issues will be resolved without court intervention.

The parties will give full, honest and open disclosure of all information, whether requested or not.

There will be informal discussions and conferences to settle all issues.

The parties direct all attorneys, accountants, therapists, appraisers and other consultants to work in a cooperative effort to resolve issues without resort to litigation or any other external decision-making process except as agreed upon.

Negotiation in Good Faith

The parties acknowledge that each of their attorneys is independent from the other, and represents only one party in the collaborative law process.

All understand that the process, even with full and honest disclosure, will involve vigorous good faith negotiation.

Each of the parties will be expected to make a reasoned statement of legitimate needs and interests in all disputes. Where such legitimate needs and interests differ, each of the parties will be encouraged to use their best efforts to create proposals that meet the fundamental needs of both of the parties and the family to reach a settlement of all issues.

Although the participants may discuss the likely outcome of a litigated result, no one will use threats of litigation as a way of forcing settlement.

The choices a divorcing couple makes at the beginning of their negotiations may well determine the way their divorce turns out, the kind of relationship they have in the future, and how their children adjust. The fact that they are angry, sad, distrustful, or anxious does not mean that most are not capable of making good choices in how they manage their divorce.

In the traditional adversarial system, from the very outset, the parties are labeled and set off against one another as "opposing parties." The concept of having the parties "opposed" to one another may unduly aggravate the divorce related issues and the inherent conflict. In attempting to resolve the issues between them in this oppositional framework, they may surrender their ability to control the situation and the process and ask the Court to ultimately determine the outcome.

The heart of collaborative law is the belief, shared by the parties and their attorneys, that it is in their best interest and in the best interests of their family to resolve differences with minimal conflict and without going to court.

The Goals of Collaborative Law are:

To help the parties communicate calmly with each other and express needs, interests and emotions appropriately

To ask questions, help the parties hear each other, and offer creative and workable alternatives

To provide a safe place and organized framework for the parties to discuss each issue and reach agreement

To prepare and file all written paperwork for the court

What is the goal of collaborative law?

The goal or purpose of collaborative law is to offer attorneys and their clients a structured, non-adversarial alternative to an adversarial system of dispute resolution. It guarantees consumers of legal services high quality, skilled legal counsel to assist in the evaluation and resolution of a problem, without litigation.

For whom is collaborative law a good idea?

Not every attorney will want or be able to practice collaborative law. Not every client will be willing to give up the adversarial contest. For many attorneys, however, their trial court experience has led to a belief that the commitment of their skill and time to a litigated case often does not achieve an outcome which is cost effective or even a good solution for their clients’ problems. Similarly, many clients are looking for experienced legal counsel, knowledgeable guidance and skilled advocacy, but do not want litigation. For these attorneys and for these clients, Collaborative Law is an excellent option.

Can an attorney represent a client zealously if it is agreed in advance not to go to court?

By entering into a collaborative law participation agreement attorneys and their clients have thoughtfully agreed to limit the attorney’s role within the contractual relationship to that of providing representation for settlement purposes, only. Nothing in the Canons of Ethics precludes such a limitation. In stepping out of the adversarial process, the collaborative attorney does not give up the role of advocate for his or her client. The collaborative law attorney is representing his or her client zealously, not only to achieve a short term goal, but to realize the best result in the long run.

Can a party terminate the process?

Nothing in the participation agreement precludes a party from terminating the collaborative law process and deciding to litigate. However, the clients will have been advised at the outset that doing so will require them to hire other counsel. The other party also will be trading his or her collaborative attorney for a litigator.

How is an attorney’s relationship with a client different in the collaborative law process, and how do attorneys prepare clients for participating collaboratively?

First, the attorney never ceases to be the client’s advocate and the client is so assured. By entering into the participation agreement, the client has already decided and declared the intent to neither threaten nor pursue litigation (an entitlement, however, which the client never waives). Now the objective is to discern and attempt to satisfy the interests of both (all) parties. To that end, all parties and counsel must cooperate. Counsel will encourage their clients to speak clearly about their own needs and desires, and to listen carefully to those expressed by others. Collaborative law attorneys remind and reassure their clients that by treating the other participant’s interests with respect, they are serving their client’s goals and interests. Collaborative attorneys are trained in communication skills and will assist the parties in this endeavor.

Can one attorney practice collaborative law if the other participant has not signed a participation agreement?

We will proceed on a collaborative law basis only when all attorneys and clients have signed the participation agreement. Clients and their attorneys may decide that they will use collaborative principles and use their best efforts to settle the case, however, the members of the Association of Collaborative Family Law Attorneys will term this non-adversarial process “working cooperatively”. Unless the participation agreement is signed and there is a contractual obligation on the attorneys’ part not to proceed with litigation for the clients, we are not truly working for our clients “collaboratively”.

How is collaborative law different from mediation?

Mediation involves the use of a single neutral person (who may be an attorney, a mental health professional, or someone who has an interest in mediating) to facilitate the negotiation and settlement of a dispute between the parties. The mediator's goal is for the parties to reach agreement and, to that end, the parties usually are responsible for negotiate negotiating for themselves. The mediator cannot give legal advice to either of the parties; the parties may or may not be advised to seek independent legal counsel during their mediation. In New York, mediators are not required to be licensed.

Please click here or click on Contact Us on the menu at the top of this page to find out how you can further explore the options available to you as you prepare to confront of the most difficult challenges of your life. There is no good divorce. But with the right attorneys, we believe there can be a better one.