Collaborative Law Can be Answer

People seeking a divorce have an option to keep from going to court — if all parties agree.
That option is collaborative law where all parties and their attorneys get together and solve problems outside the courtroom. The only time the court is needed is when papers must be signed absolving the marriage.
But there is a catch to the process.
All parties sign a contract that they will not go to court. If court ultimately is chosen, those seeking a divorce must start over with new attorneys.
That’s the rule that all must abide by.
David A. Tracy, with the firm Naylor, Williams & Tracy, Inc., said collaborative law is growing by word of mouth and today there are tens of thousands of participating attorneys in nine different countries.
The collaborative law concept was started in1990 by Stu Webb, a Minneapolis attorney who, after 20 years practicing family law, was tired of the divorce wars, he said. Webb and three other Minneapolis attorneys were involved in the process.
Borrowing from Webb, Taylor quoted the Minneapolis attorney saying, ‘‘it’s a sea change in how to handle dissolving marriages.’’
While the collaborative concept looks simple, it is a lot of hard work, he added. What it does is put the burden on lawyers and clients to find a solution that is right. That solution may or may not be what a judge would do in a given case. It also give people the opportunity to handle themselves in a dignified and respectful way in difficult situations. This actually may be harder work than going directly to court and battling it out in that arena.
Most people, given the opportunity, like to retain their dignity.
Tracy has been involved in collaborative law since 2002. He has practiced in domestic law since earning his license in 1983.
He was attracted to the idea because it was another way to serve clients.
Collaborative law is not for everyone, he said. But it does give people the option of a different route if they desire.
‘‘It all boils down to what is appropriate,’’ Tracy continued. The courthouse is the correct place to solve some disputes.
Yet, collaborative law makes sense for those willing to work in the system.
It is more efficient and less expensive than the litigious process, he said. ‘‘The key is making the process effective. If I can help a client resolve domestic problems then I am a winner. If not, and they go to court, I lose a client because I haven’t been able to provide a service.
‘‘Everyone agreeing to the collaborative session is in the same pot together. It is difficult, but most people given the opportunity will use it.’’
Collaborative law is not just being nice and compromising until it is time to go to court, Tracy continued. Lawyers should be thinking about offering this service to clients all the time.
Others, including mental health and financial personnel, also are involved in collaborative groups.
These individuals work as a team to help people solve difficulties.
Even though marriages are ended there still is a connectiveness because deep down, there is a spark about why the union first took place, Tracy added.
This concept could be applied to other areas of civil law, he said. It could apply to probate and guardianship where there is the root of the family.
Medical malpractice is probably the next discipline that will utilize collaborative law.
That will happen, Tracy said, when hospital risk managers and plaintiffs attorneys understand how to make the process work.
Collaborative law initially applies to family law because of the two parties involved, he continued. And there are more professional people involved than just attorneys.
Mental health and financial professionals also are included to help bridge the gap and prevent people from just beating each other down. That is part of the mix
That CPA or divorce financial planner help people look to the future, Tracy said. Mental health personnel are needed, especially when children are involved. Too often parents forget children also are part of the divorce process and fail to consider how they are affected.
Divorcing couples have a two-fold responsibility and children must be included in the process. Young people often take on the blame of the divorce, thinking they might have done something to cause the problem.
Granted, Tracy added, there are costs when these professionals are involved, but they are probably the least expensive part of the team.
Divorce is expensive and when these professionals can expedite matters in an efficient fashion it actually saves dollars, he said.
Collaborative law is becoming better known and the Oklahoma Academy of Collaborative Professionals is growing. Currently there are 42 members statewide and interest is growing.
Tracy has made three presentations on the subject, including speaking to the Alternative Dispute Resolution class at the University of Tulsa.
Three law schools in North America are offering classes on the subject. The Oklahoma Bar Association and Tulsa County Bar Association have sponsored training workshops.
But the general public is now aware of collaborative law unless someone tells them, he continued. That is changing and is just about at the tipping point as the public learns about another choice.
Some people are afraid to try something new, Tracy said. It is as if they are convinced that divorce must be ugly and messy and if they choose to make it that way, that is their business.
‘‘I won’t say anything bad about the legal system and the way divorces are handled,’’ he said. Courts are doing the best they can with the tools they have been handed through the law.
But divorce cases don’t have to be that way — contentious, because there are ways that people can go through this difficult process and retain their dignity, Tracy said.

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