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How Does Collaborative Law Work In Texas Divorces?

The collaborative law process is a non-adversarial dispute resolution process in which the parties work together, with the assistance of their attorneys and other neutral professionals, to resolve their disputes without going to court. The parties may be (and typically are) adverse to one another, but the process does not put them against each other as adversaries.  Instead, the parties, their lawyers, and other neutral professionals work together as a team. The focus of the collaborative law process is on addressing the parties’ goals and interests in a forward-looking manner rather than punishing the parties for past behavior.

Collaborative law is a voluntary process. Unlike mediation, the court cannot force the parties to participate in the collaborative law process.

In the event the parties are not able to resolve their issues using the collaborative law process, they may opt out of the process and litigate. Either party may opt out of the collaborative law process at any time. By opting out, the collaborative law process will end, the collaborative lawyers must withdraw, and the parties must hire new litigation lawyers. To preserve the confidentiality of the collaborative law process, none of the collaborative professionals (lawyers, communications facilitators, financial professionals, or other neutral professionals) may testify at any subsequent hearing or trial.

Rules and Procedures for Collaborative Law

Just as the court follows certain laws and rules, the collaborative law process has its own set of rules and procedures. Experience has shown that following these procedures maximizes the likelihood of a positive outcome.

A collaborative family law participation agreement must be in a record (in writing), be signed by the parties, state the parties’ intent to use the collaborative law process, describe the nature and scope of the family law matter (such as divorce), identify the collaborative lawyer who represents each party, and contain a statement by each collaborative lawyer confirming the lawyer’s representation of a party in the process.

The participation agreement must include provisions for suspending court intervention while the parties are using the collaborative law process, and unless otherwise agreed in writing, jointly engaging any professionals, experts, or advisors in a neutral capacity.

Neutral Experts in Collaborative Law

One of the truly unique benefits of the collaborative law process is the use of jointly-engaged neutral experts and advisors as needed. In addition to the parties, the typical collaborative law “team” will include each party’s respective attorney, a neutral communications facilitator, and a neutral financial professional. When necessary, other neutral experts may be retained as needed. For example, the parties may disagree on the value of a business and agree to hire someone to prepare a business valuation.

In the collaborative law process, all experts are jointly retained by the parties to prevent the appearance of any bias towards either party. The experts may only participate in the process as neutrals – in the event either party opts out of the collaborative law process, none of the neutrals or attorneys may continue in the subsequent litigation case, may not testify at trial for any reason, and may not provide professional services for either party outside the collaborative law process (for example, the financial professional may not have an ongoing relationship with either party as a financial advisor or CPA).

After signing the participation agreement, the attorneys will file a “notice of collaborative law procedures” with the court advising the court that the case is being resolved using the collaborative law process. This notice operates as a stay of the proceeding in the court. The court may not set the case for trial or dismissal until the second anniversary of the date the case was filed with the court. This effectively gives the parties and their collaborative law team as much time as they need in that two year period to work on the case without any pressure or interference by the court.

If you’d like to learn more about the collaborative law process give us a call at 469-519-1020 or contact us via our website.

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