On May 3, 2013, Governor Inslee signed into law the Uniform Collaborative
Law Act ("UCLA"). This law formally establishes
Collaborative Law as a unique legal process to resolve legal issues distinct from mediation,
arbitration, and traditional adversarial (court) processes. Washington
is the seventh state to enact the UCLA.
The UCLA establishes how Collaborative Law is to be practiced in Washington
State and standardizes the most important features of collaborative law
participation. Historically, legal representation has been based upon
the concept of adversarial process. Together with negotiation and mediation,
collaborative law is a form of alternative dispute resolution designed
to address family law issues without court intervention. The collaborative
process is a voluntary, structured, non-adversarial approach to resolving
disputes in which both parties and their attorneys use an interest-based
approach to work together to resolve disputes. This is in contrast to
litigation which focuses on legal positions over the parties' interests.
The Act's Treatment of Collaborative Law Participation Agreements
The UCLA requires use of a Participation Agreement which defines each lawyer
and participant's role in the process, states the parties' intention
to resolve the matter (issue for resolution) through collaborative law,
contains a description of the matter and identifies and confirms engagement
of the collaborative lawyers.
When the Process Begins and Terminates
Under the UCLA, the process begins when parties sign a participation agreement,
and any party may unilaterally terminate the process at any time without
specifying a reason. The process is concluded by a negotiated, signed
agreement resolving the matter, or a portion of the matter and the parties'
agreement that the remaining portions of the matter will not be resolved
in the process.
Several actions will terminate the process, such as a party giving notice
to do so, beginning a legal proceeding, or the discharge or withdrawal
of a collaborative lawyer. It further provides that under certain conditions
the collaborative process may continue with a successor collaborative
lawyer in the event of the withdrawal or discharge of a collaborative lawyer.
Automatic Stay of Court Proceedings
The Act provides that if the collaborative process begins after court proceedings
have begun, those proceedings will stop once the parties file a notice
of collaborative law with the court. However, a court may still issue
emergency orders to protect the health, safety, welfare, or interests
of a party or to protect financial or other interests in any critical area.
Disqualification of a Collaborative Lawyer
With limited exceptions, should the collaborative law process terminate
without the matter being settled, the collaborative lawyer is disqualified
from representing a party in a proceeding before a court in the same matter,
except to seek emergency orders or to approve an agreement resulting from
the collaborative law process.
Disclosure, Confidentiality and Evidentiary Privilege
Parties in the process must, upon request of a party, make timely, full,
and informal disclosure of information related to the collaborative matter
without formal discovery, and promptly update information that has materially
changed. The Act further provides that oral and written communications
developed in the collaborative process are confidential to the extent
agreed by the parties or as provided by state law, and, with limited exceptions,
creates a broad privilege prohibiting disclosure of communications developed
in the process in legal proceedings.
The UCLA formalizes what were informal collaborative law guidelines into
law, and creates new rules governing the interaction between the court
and collaborative law practice and procedures. By doing so, those using
the collaborative process can be reassured the process will bound to a
consistent set of rules and be recognized by the courts as an additional
form of alternative dispute resolution.
For more on Collaborative Law and Collaborative Divorce, see our post:
Collaborative Law Divorce: Is it Right For Me?