Eddie Stephens is a trained Collaborative Attorney.

Why does it work?

When a separating couple decides to choose collaborative it allows them to dissolve their relationship through a process that distinctly emphasizes cooperation, respect, mutual outcomes, transparency, and privacy.

The value of privacy is foremost in collaborative law. Unlike litigated divorce or paternity cases where family matters are handled inside a courtroom resulting in public filings, the collaborative process is performed out of court and keeps private family matters out of the public record.

The transparent and cooperative nature of collaborative law, along with the support of collaborative attorneys and neutral professionals promotes honest negotiations and mutually-agreed upon settlements.

How does it work?

It starts with the pledge not to go to court. Collaborative law consists of the two clients and their collaborative lawyers which form the base of the collaborative team. The team is joined by both a neutral financial practitioner and a neutral mental health professional / facilitator. All lawyers and professionals have specific training and experience in the collaborative process.

Because all parties, lawyers, and neutral professionals pledge not to go to court, the team ensures a safe platform for full-disclosure discussions and negotiations between parties. This is solidified by your attorney’s agreement to withdraw from further representation if a settlement cannot be reached or one of the parties opts out of the collaborative process. This eliminates the risk that information can be used against you if the dispute must go to court.

The collaborative process involves negotiations between both parties with the assistance of the collaborative professionals. This is all done outside the courtroom eliminating the need for hearings, filing of pleadings and formal discovery. Decision-making rests with the parties not a judge and they decide when and where to negotiate. Disputes are resolved based on fully disclosed information in the transparent process.

Since the well-being of both parties, children, and future outcomes are considered, the collaborative process produces no winners or losers in the sense of a combative arena. Instead, it takes all elements into consideration and seeks the outcome that is best for all involved.

Is it right for you?

The Collaborative Process is the right choice for couples seeking a mutually agreed upon settlement and who are committed to move beyond disputes in a respectful and peaceful manner. The goal is that the family can look forward to decreased conflict and improved communication post divorce / dispute.

How is collaborative practice different from litigation?

The essential difference is that in collaborative practice the parties sign a participation agreement in which they commit to not use litigation to resolve their case. There is full disclosure of all financial and other relevant information in a transparent and cooperative process. The parties are represented by their individual attorneys and a team is formed to include a neutral financial expert and a mental health professional/facilitator who help move the process forward. Team members are generally trained in interest-based negotiation techniques and other aspects of mediation. Collaborative practice is an alternative dispute resolution method that is respectful of the desire to maintain relationships after the divorce. Collaborative practice is predicated on the pledge not to litigate, the mandatory withdrawal of the attorneys and the other team professionals in the unusual situation where the case does not settle, and a commitment to deal with the other party honestly and with respect to work towards shared goals in reaching an agreement.

What is the collaborative team?

Each of the parties is represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney. In addition there are neutral, collaboratively trained, financial and neutral mental health professionals as part of the team. The neutral financial person helps the family determine a thorough understanding of their assets and liabilities, values businesses, calculates spousal and child support, and assists in financial planning. The mental health professional is a facilitator of the team meeting and helps in the creation of a parenting plan in children with families. Additionally the MHP addresses the inevitable emotions which arise during dissolution of marriage and other family law matters.

What is the difference between collaborative practice and mediation?

Lawyers are not always present during mediation but the parties are always represented by attorneys during collaborative practice. Mediation often involves lengthy, if not marathon sessions, which are stressful and fatiguing. In contrast collaborative team meetings are set up with start and stop times, with a planned agenda, which help create a feeling of safety, certainty and productivity. Team meetings are scheduled at regular intervals to work through the process at a comfortable pace. This allows for the team to cooperatively move towards settlement. Commonly attorneys and the neutral financial and mental health team members are trained in mediation techniques including interest-based negotiation. Mediation takes place in the context of litigation whereas with collaborative practice the parties sign a participation agreement in which they commit not to litigate.

Is a collaborative divorce faster than litigation?

In collaborative practice there is no waiting for court dates. The team, not crowded court schedules, determines when each meeting will take place. Given that the process is predicated on full disclosure and cooperation, the process of discovery, or information gathering, is generally more expedient. Generally a litigated case takes longer to move from start to finish than a collaborative practice case.

How does collaborative practice minimize hostility?

Collaborative practice is based on full disclosure and transparency in a safe and private environment. Collaborative professionals are trained in interest-based negotiation to move past positional reasoning towards agreements. The goal of collaborative practice is to reduce conflict during the process and afterwards, making co-parenting easier in families with children. In collaborative practice there is a commitment to respect each other’s shared goals and to follow a code of conduct. Anger, loss and grief are a natural part of divorce. Collaborative practice allows clients to receive support and guidance to manage these emotions which can exacerbate the conflict and derail settlement attempts in traditional divorce.

How does the cost of a collaborative divorce compare to the cost of more traditional litigation?

Litigation is generally the most expensive way to dissolve a marriage. There is an expensive discovery process that can involve subpoenas to banks, credit card statements, depositions and much more. Then there are the motions and court appearances to obtain the documents that were not produced. There are usually numerous pleadings filed in the court which require responses by the opposing attorney and sometimes court appearances. There is often considerable downtime, waiting in the court hallways for a case to be heard or travel time to court. With collaborative practice, each of the professionals involved receives a retainer and future services are billed against them. The commitment to fairness and cooperation saves vast amount of money by avoiding motions and court appearances. The use and efficiency of expert neutrals, rather than adversarial experts, saves monies and the overall costs at the end of the process are generally less in collaborative practice..

How is the collaborative approach different from settlement negotiations in traditional litigated divorce?

In the collaborative process all parties agree to an open and honest exchange of financial and other information with the goal of a fair resolution. Although the parties are represented and supported by their own attorneys, the team works cooperatively with each other. Given that there is less conflict and animosity during collaboration, children are insulated from the toxicity associated with litigation. In a collaborative approach the parties agree to the use of one neutral financial expert, which reduces the cost of dueling forensic accountants and business evaluators. Experts in child development and family relationships are used in the development of parenting plans and in other discussion and agreements regarding children. The tone of a collaborative divorce is one of respect, cooperation and resolution of differences.