by Darcy Shoop
Collaborative Law1, Collaborative Practice, and Collaborative Divorce are all terms that can be used interchangeably when referring to the revolutionary and relatively new model of alternative dispute resolution sweeping the nation. In Maryland, the number of trained collaborative professionals is growing exponentially and enthusiastically. So too are the number of successful collaborative cases. With the development of the only statewide umbrella organization, the Maryland Collaborative Practice Council (“MCPC”), which consists of attorneys, mental health professionals and financial specialists, more emphasis is being placed on the team approach to collaboration otherwise known as the interdisciplinary team model.
The interdisciplinary team model utilizes a combination of collaboratively trained professionals working interactively as co-equals. In addition to the attorneys, mental health coaches participate, one for each partner, to help with their communication skills during the process. The parties are guided by their coaches on how to present their individual needs and goals in the most effective manner as well as how to handle co-parenting issues. Typically, the parties meet one-on-one with their coaches prior to the initial collaborative meeting to address issues that could become emotional obstacles during the process.
The child specialist focuses on the needs of the children and meets with them, if appropriate, to determine their concerns. The child specialist acts as the children’s voice bringing valuable information back to the table in an effort to assist the parties in crafting a parenting plan which meets the children’s specific developmental needs. The child specialist is not, however, a custody evaluator. Instead, this professional works together with the other members of the team by adding insight and experience to the resolution of what often can be difficult children’s issues.
The financial specialist assists the parties in gathering and analyzing the necessary information about their finances in a neutrally productive manner. The expertise of the financial specialist is beneficial in helping the parties and their attorneys understand the present and future consequences of the various settlement options. Often, this professional will work with the parties together in developing alternative scenarios which then are explored more fully in a five-way meeting with the attorneys.
The interdisciplinary team approach utilizes the various professionals who have the most expertise on a particular issue on the table for resolution. For the clients, the involvement of the additional professionals provides a direct and more efficient means of addressing the often complex process of unraveling a marriage. A big advantage of using the team model for all of the professionals is the increased opportunity for guiding the potential clients into the collaborative process. Furthermore, a successful team in one case may find themselves working together on other collaborative cases more and more in the future.
Helping families in crisis reach mutually acceptable durable agreements is the goal of the Collaborative Practice model and of every collaborative professional. In fact, Collaborative Practice is extremely helpful in addressing highly complex emotional and financial issues due to the support, experience and expertise of the team. Collaboration should be offered to any person facing separation, divorce and other family systems issues. Resolving conflicts by focusing on the future creates a better foundation for the reorganization of the family.
1 Developed by Stu Webb in 1991, Collaborative Law involves a commitment by the parties, their counsel and other participating professionals to resolve the case respectfully and without the threat of litigation. If the case cannot be settled, the attorneys and other professionals involved must withdraw. The process is protected by confidentiality yet requires full disclosure of all financial and other information necessary to resolve the issues. All participants are expected to conduct themselves in a dignified and honest manner consistent with the principles and guidelines of Collaborative Law. Collaborative Law is expanding into other practice areas besides family law including, but not limited to, civil, probate, business, and personal injury.