The phrase “Collaborative Divorce” has been something of a trend among family lawyers over the past decade. Informal organizations like the Collaborative Practice Institute of Michigan, exist to offer training in non-adversarial conflict resolution and help people find trained attorneys and professionals. But there has been no law regulating the practice. Now the Michigan legislature is considering a bill that would formalize and regulate the process.
The idea behind collaborative family law is that not all couples need to fight out their problems in court. Sometimes people can calmly come together and dissolve their marriage. Ideally, when couples are able to come together with collaborative attorneys and other professionals like financial planners, social workers, and mental health professionals, they are able to address their respective needs in a way that leaves both parties satisfied.
The bill being considered basically adopts the best practices of the collaboration organization:
- That each party would be represented by a different collaborative attorney;
- That anything said or disclosed during collaboration can’t be used later in court;
- That either party can end the collaborative process at any time;
- That the collaborative process ends when either party files a complaint or motion with the court, other than to approve the parties’ agreement; and
- That should the collaborative process end without a resolution, each party must find different lawyers to represent them in court.
The bill also provides for clarity in the procedure, by allowing the parties of any family law proceeding including adoption to file an agreement to enter the collaborative process that puts the legal proceeding on hold. Then the court is only allowed to inquire whether the collaborative process is ongoing or concluded.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill instructs the Michigan Supreme Court Administrator’s Office, which oversees the licensing of attorneys, to create a training and certification process for collaborative lawyers. After 2 years it will be unlawful to practice collaborative law without that certification. This is a big change because it will allow lawyers to specialize in the process and will assure clients that the lawyers know what they are doing. It also will mean that all collaborative proceedings will be relatively similar.
Regardless of whether your family lawyer is trained in collaborative methods you should always discuss options before diving in to a lengthy court battle. Sometimes, especially when you’re looking to change an existing order, you can get a lot done without ever getting the court involved. If you have a low-conflict family law situation, contact attorney Lisa J. Schmidt for a consultation.