Collaborative Divorce – How Does it Work? By Margaret H. Tyre, Esq.
The practice of Collaborative Law is in large part about process. It is crucial that the parties and counsel embrace the process at the outset. This is set in motion from the very first meeting of the parties and counsel.
The first four way meeting follows the initial consultations of the individual party with their respective counsel. Therefore, it is not designed to be a fact gathering meeting. Rather it is designed to lay the foundation of the process.
At the first four way meeting, the counsel will generally introduce themselves to the non-client party. It is the counsels’ job to try to put the parties at ease.
Following the introductions, the parties and counsel take turns reading the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement out loud. While it may sound tedious, it, in fact, focuses the parties on the terms of the collaborative process they are about to embark on. In addition, it creates an opportunity to discuss in depth various terms of the Agreement that have particular interest to the case at hand.
Once the Participation Agreement is signed by the parties and counsel, the parties and counsel take turns reading the Ground Rules of behavior out loud. It is crucial to the process that the parties understand that they must treat each other with respect and conduct themselves with dignity. Besides being just the right thing to do, it is hoped that it creates an environment in which the parties can express their feelings freely, thus, affording the parties with the best opportunity of having their needs met.
Following the signing of the Ground Rules acknowledging the acceptance of its terms, the parties and counsel set the agenda for the next meeting. The purpose of the agenda is to make the discussion orderly, give the parties time to prepare, and to avoid any surprises at a meeting.
In addition, home work may be assigned that is required for the next meeting. A schedule is set for the next two or three meetings roughly two or three weeks apart. The process is dependent on the parties and counsel making themselves available for meetings in a timely manner.
Before the close of the first meeting, the parties and counsel explore what, if any, issues need immediate attention. An effort is made to ameliorate the issue(s) for the time being so that the parties have an opportunity for a more in depth discussion.
Minutes of the meetings are kept by the attorneys who take turns at each meeting. Keeping minutes allows parties to refer back to previous meetings to refresh themselves as to what has been discussed and in some cases what may have been previously agreed to.
The first meeting is concluded and hopefully a good foundation has been laid and the parties are ready to embark on the process of resolving their substantive issues during the subsequent meetings.