What is the fee structure?

Each professional sets his or her own retainer fee and hourly rate, and each professional is paid separately. The collaborative participation agreement will make clear that payment of the professionals is a contractual obligation, and each professional will have his or her own fee agreement for the parties to sign.

How do we make changes to an agreement in the future, or enforce it if the other participant violates the terms of the agreement?

Most agreements reached through the collaborative process will contain a provision requiring the parties to reconvene a collaborative session if future disputes arise. If the attempt to resume the collaborative process does not succeed, then, assuming the collaborative agreement has been incorporated into a court order, traditional enforcement and modification methods remain available through the court.

Are the coaches our therapists? What about the child specialist?

Communication coaches do not serve as therapists for the parties. Their role is to assist the client through the collaborative process and to help the parties communicate more productively. Child specialists, likewise, are not child therapists in the collaborative process. The role of the child specialist is to assist the parties with questions regarding how to proceed in a manner that serves the child’s best interests, and in crafting a parenting plan that meets the needs of the family. Counseling for the parties and for children involved in a family dispute is, of course, highly beneficial, but the parties must seek independent mental health professionals outside of the collaborative team for this purpose, to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

Can the two of us use just one lawyer together?

No. Each party must have independent legal counsel whose role it is to advocate for and represent the interests of the individual client. Because the parties’ goals and interests may at times conflict, it would be unethical for one attorney to represent both parties.

Is the collaborative process only used for divorces?

Not at all. The collaborative process is also useful in child custody and visitation cases, support cases, and nearly any other case involving disputes between family members.

How long does the process take?

In Virginia, spouses with children under the age of 18 must live separately for a full year before they can file for a no-fault divorce, even if they have a written agreement resolving all issues of property distribution, debt division, parenting, and support. Spouses without children may file for a no-fault divorce after six months of separation if they have a written agreement resolving all issues. Aside from the statutory waiting periods, the process moves at the pace necessary to ensure that both parties are satisfied that they have sufficient information to reach an agreement; that all professionals on the collaborative team have had the time to walk the parties through their various options and the potential consequences; and that both parties are comfortable with the solutions chosen to each issue. In short, the parties are the driving force behind the number of legal meetings, coaching sessions, child specialist sessions, and financial meetings necessary to work out the details of an agreement.

What if we can’t agree?

If parties in the collaborative process become “stuck” on one or more issues, it is often possible to reach a written agreement on some issues and only submit the remaining ones to resolution by the court. Because of the flexibility and nearly limitless options available in the collaborative process but not available in litigation, most often the parties, with the help of the collaborative professional team, can arrive at creative solutions that might not be available to a judge facing the same issue, because of legal constraints on what the judge may order.

Who is a good candidate for the collaborative process? Are there any reasons why it might NOT be a good fit for my situation?

Just because a situation involves intense disagreement on certain issues, that does not mean that the collaborative approach is not appropriate. Collaborative professionals are trained to manage high-conflict situations. Anyone who has a divorce, child custody dispute, spousal or child support dispute, or faces a proposed modification or enforcement action with regard to an already-existing court order or agreement, could benefit from the collaborative process. In general terms, the collaborative process is normally not recommended in situations where a history of abuse exists, or where one or both parties may have untreated substance abuse or untreated mental or emotional health issues serious enough to inhibit full participation in the collaborative process.

What are the benefits of the collaborative process?

Unlike litigation, the collaborative process allows the parties to maintain control of the ultimate outcome of the dispute, while encouraging open communication and the sharing of all pertinent information. Voluntary sharing of information saves time and money, as compared to the formal discovery process used to obtain information in litigation. The collaborative process also allows parties to access professional guidance from mental health and financial experts in a non-adversarial setting, so that the parties receive the same information at the same time, and can use the information or advice to make important decisions. Perhaps the greatest benefit of choosing collaborative comes for the children involved in a divorce or parental separation. By minimizing conflict and focusing on resolution, parents spare their children exposure to the lengthy period of stress, uncertainty, and discord caused by a litigated child custody case, and the parents generally report greater satisfaction with the terms of their agreed parenting plan than with an order determined by a judge.