In 2003, the North Carolina Legislature extended alternative dispute resolution for divorce by providing Collaborative Law as a legal substitute to the adversarial court system model. Since that time, separating/divorcing spouses and/or parents of minor children may choose collaboration instead of fighting in a courtroom. With a Collaborative Divorce, the parties take matters into their own hands and work together to reach decisions rather than depending on courtrooms and Judges to reach verdicts about their future.
The Collaborative Divorce Process
Collaborative Divorce attorneys and other specialists (financial and mental health) are trained in a paradigm shift of non-adversarial and interest-based negotiation. Parties sit down together with their attorneys and engage in cooperative decision-making. Each person signs a legal contract (pledge) which provides a safe space and time to settle their legal matters without court involvement while also preserving any statutory time frames.
Each spouse has their own collaborative law trained attorney and the 4 individuals meet together in a series of sessions to shape the process. The legal needs, budget and time concerns of each party are discussed in a series of sessions that work towards a collaborative resolution and identify the matters in dispute. For example, the parties may reach an immediate agreement regarding the children’s schedules, certain financial needs, or what professionals they need to assist them, be it financial advisors, appraisers, counselors, etc. They might need additional data or need to brainstorm a specific topic in order to reach compromise or final result. The communication leads to a comprehensive Separation Agreement which contain provisions that fit the parties, their children, and/or their businesses’ needs, not just what family law statutes dictate or a Judge’s discretion ultimately provides.
Benefits of Collaborative Divorce
With Collaborative Divorce, the parties retain more control over their case outcome and can reduce legal fees and costs than litigation.
Collaborative law uses “positive” communication strategies. For example, interest-based negotiation emphasizes the explanation of “why” an individual wants what they are requesting instead of just focusing on an immovable hard line “position.” The attorneys and parties shared communication creates synergy and more effective problem solving as they are in the same room to collect, discuss, and understand information from their marriage. Clients may also benefit by learning communication skills that help divorced couples maintain or create a future of peace and consistency for their families. During the collaborative process, the attorneys are the guides, educators and facilitators along the way. Each party retains attorney-client privilege and confidential time to receive legal education, strategize and finalize decision-making outside of sessions with the other spouse and their attorney.
Collaborative Law Attorneys Can Help
A spouse facing a divorce, separation or family dispute should consider speaking with a trained Collaborative Divorce attorney who will analyze all legal paths to identify what shall best meet the needs for the party before filing a lawsuit.
Ashley Michael is a founding member of Coastal Collaborative Colleagues (CCC), the only collaborative divorce practice group in Eastern North Carolina. CCC is a non-profit organization established with the North Carolina Secretary of State in 2012 consisting of attorney, mental health and financial specialist members. Learn more about Collaborative Divorce at www.coastalcollaborativedivorce.com
Ashley Michael is a Board Certified Specialist in the area of Family Law. She is 1 of 3 practicing attorneys in New Hanover County to hold this distinction and 1 of 254* family law specialists state-wide, out of more than 20,000 licensed attorneys in North Carolina. (*data as of February 2018)