What is Collaborative Practice?

Collaborative Practice (CP) has been defined as “a voluntary dispute resolution process in which parties settle without resort to litigation.” It allows the parties to control the outcome, as opposed to putting it in the hands of a judge or other third party (such as an arbiter).

The goals of those heading into Collaborative Practice should be to negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution and to create solutions that factor in the highest priorities of each party, all while maintaining open communication.

What Must Be Done at the Start of Collaborative Practice?

Before participating in Collaborative Practice, the involved parties must:

  1. Sign a participation agreement, which is then counter-signed by the professionals involved.
  2. Voluntarily disclose any material relevant to the issues at hand.
  3. Agree to work towards a mutually acceptable settlement in their negotiation efforts.
  4. Understand that the representation or engagement of any attorney or mental health or financial professional must terminate immediately if the process ends short of an agreement.
  5. Realize that they can jointly engage other experts as needed.

Which Professionals Are Involved in Collaborative Practice?

While numerous Collaborative Practice models exist, most states and Collaborative Practice attorneys follow their own specific models. In all models, each party brings his or her own lawyer. In my practice, I include a neutral coach or facilitator, which is usually a mental health coordinator. This individual keeps negotiations on track by helping the parties to deal with emotions that arise in a constructive way.

Other professionals that may become involved, at either party’s request or should circumstances dictate it to be prudent, can include:

  1. A financial professional
  2. A child specialist
  3. A business valuator (if one party is a business owner)
  4. A real estate appraiser (if the parties own properties)
  5. A pension specialist (to value or help divide any pension)

These additional professionals are usually jointly hired as a neutral party, both to keep costs down and to prevent dueling experts.

How Long Does Collaborative Practice Take?

The length of the Collaborative Practice process and the number of meetings vary according to the parties and issues involved. The parties do have some control over the speediness of proceedings. If they get their homework done quickly, we can schedule the next meeting and move ahead. At the same time, it is perfectly fine for them to take their time if that is what is needed, both so they can process events emotionally and also arrange other aspects of their lives (finances, etc.). It is important to realize that the process only goes as fast as the slowest person in the room. If one party is not emotionally ready or is delaying the process (for whatever reason), the timetable can be slower.

Our next post will address the pros and cons of the Collaborative Practice process, as well as who would benefit most from it.