By definition, civil litigation is adversarial. It’s always “my lawyer against your lawyer.” For many years, divorce litigation was the only way to legally dissolve a marriage, divide community property, and set up family support obligations in Texas. But recently, lawmakers adopted the Collaborative Family Law Act. The new Chapter 15 of the Texas Family Code gives people looking for a non-adversarial solution a new choice in this area.
Mediation is a very effective way to amicably resolve family law disputes out of court. In a way, collaborative law is like ongoing mediation. However, there are some significant procedural differences, as outlined below.
Philosophy is the biggest difference between mediation and collaborative law. During mediation, attorneys look to get the best possible deal for their clients’ immediate needs. In collaborative law, these decisions must account for other people’s needs, as well as future client needs.
Largely because of this philosophical difference, only an experienced Texas collaborative divorce attorney should handle such matters. Collaborative law is a completely different approach from traditional litigation. For that reason, collaborative law participants need a completely different kind of lawyer.
Is Collaborative Law Right for You?
In a nutshell, if you still trust your soon-to-be-ex-spouse and the two of you have small children, a collaborative divorce might be right for you.
Maintaining 100% trust is usually impossible. Typically, one spouse has broken the other spouse’s trust. That’s the reason the parties are getting a divorce in the first place. However, if collaborative law is going to work, the soon-to-be-ex-spouses must have a certain level of personal and financial trust.
Personal trust is important because the husband and wife will be spending significant amounts of time in the same room in an unsecured location. This is why if there are verifiable allegations of recent and serious domestic abuse, then we normally don’t recommend collaborative divorce—even if the process is otherwise attractive.
Financial trust is also important because collaborative divorces are not court-supervised. The litigation discovery process requires both sides to put all their cards on the table, in terms of assets, property, and debt. There is no such required discovery during a collaborative divorce. Each party must trust the other party to voluntarily and fully disclose all such items.
Now, let’s talk about children and co-parenting. Even if a litigation case settles out of court, there is normally a “winner” and a “loser.” That isn’t a very good way to begin a successful co-parenting relationship. Despite that, thousands of parents litigate their divorces and are successful co-parenting partners. So, it’s certainly possible. However, a collaborative divorce makes co-parenting easier by giving the parties a much more involved role in reaching their agreements.
Collaborative Law Procedure
Initially, instead of filing a petition for divorce, a Texas collaborative divorce attorney files a collaborative law notice. If everything goes right, that’s the only time either lawyer will appear in a courthouse until the very end of the case.
In this notice, each spouse and each attorney must fully commit to the collaborative divorce process. If the process breaks down, each party must start over and are required to retain new legal counsel.
Next, the soon-to-be-ex spouses meet periodically, usually monthly, to discuss issues in the case. If psychologists, real estate appraisers, parenting coordinators, custody evaluators, or other outside experts are needed, the parties divide those costs. This helps the parties reach agreements by the expert not being beholden to either side.
As mentioned, these meetings usually happen in an office’s conference room or another low-key, low-conflict environment. We have even handled collaborative divorce meetings at restaurants or other such public places. The number of meetings required varies, but it’s usually around six or eight.
Contact a Dedicated Tarrant County Divorce Attorney
Litigation alternatives are available in marriage dissolution matters. For a confidential consultation with an experienced collaborative divorce attorney in Texas, contact Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP by calling (214) 273-2400. Virtual, home and after-hours visits are available.