Among the many decisions you will face when you and your spouse choose a Collaborative Divorce process is who to select as your Collaborative attorney. Collaborative law is a process in which parties to a family law dispute collaborate with the support of attorneys working together to ideally reach a full resolution of all disputed issues without the emotional and financial costs and uncertainty of litigation. Although there are hundreds of family law lawyers in Colorado, a much smaller percentage have been specifically trained in Collaborative Law. It can be difficult to know where to start your search and the criteria to use in evaluating different attorneys. Below are some tips to help guide the process of choosing an attorney for your Collaborative Divorce:
What level of training has your Collaborative Attorney done? How many Collaborative law cases have they had in the past year? A Collaboratively-trained attorney may have taken the basic initial training but if they are not using their training to regularly help couples settle their disputes they may not have as much familiarity with the kinds of issues that are unique to Collaborative law, including working with a team of neutral professionals to develop different options for settlement.
Lawyers who routinely litigate family law matters may have a lot of experience in a courtroom convincing a judge of their client’s position, but they may be less skilled when it comes to constructive ‘problem solving’ and working towards an outcome that addresses at least some of both parties’ goals and needs in a way that is also consistent with the law. Moreover, Colorado family law is a complex, nuanced area of law that often touches on many other substantive areas of law, including real estate, tax, business, guardianship, dependency and neglect, and even criminal, amongst others. It is rarely enough to have handled some family law cases and primarily practice in another area or areas of law; years of experience working exclusively in family practice is generally helpful.
Even if your Collaborative law attorney has sufficient training and experience, is their practice one in which they are oriented overall towards the out-of-court resolution of domestic relations cases? Is your attorney involved in Collaborative practice groups and other professional communities involved in alternative dispute resolution? Can they explain the ways that Collaborative law differs distinctly from a traditional adversarial model? Importantly, can they discuss how the role of a Collaborative attorney differs substantially in a Collaborative divorce from a case in which both parties have counsel who enter an appearance in the court case and may appear on their client’s behalf at a contested hearing. This can be a dramatic shift for an attorney who has spent many years litigating family law cases and it is therefore essential that your Collaborative attorney understands and embodies the Collaborative law approach.
Demeanor and Personality:
In your initial meeting are you left with the feeling that this is an attorney whose demeanor is solution-based and non-adversarial or do they seem more inclined towards being argumentative and combative? Is this attorney honest and balanced when listening to your goals and concerns?
An effective Collaborative attorney should be helping you to understand how you will approach the settlement negotiation in a reasonable, collaborative way that allows for mutually beneficial outcomes. If they are only presenting issues in a one-sided way that may be briefly convincing but it is ultimately not realistic or consistent with the Collaborative process. Make a list of questions to ask your Collaborative attorney at your initial meeting so that you can have a good sense of how well suited they are for the task of helping you to settle your divorce.
By Amy Stengel