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Collaborative Divorce Lawyers in Washington

About the Collaborative Divorce Process

The divorce process that most people are familiar with is the traditional method of litigation, which uses our justice system, which is by nature an adversarial process. The vast majority of divorce cases are resolved by negotiated agreement between the parties; however, if parties are unable to reach a settlement in family law matters using the traditional approach, then the parties must go to court and present their cases before a judge, who will hopefully rule in favor of your desired outcome.

Litigation is appropriate in many situations, but it is not always the ideal avenue for every couple seeking a divorce. Collaborative divorce may be a better option for couples in a low-conflict situation where there is a mutual goal to leave the marriage as amicably as possible while achieving fairness.

Collaborative Law: What You Need to Know

Collaborative Law refers to a method of resolving family law cases in a way that prohibits court intervention. Collaborative Law can be used in a variety of Washington State family law cases, including divorces, legal separations, child support modifications, parenting plan modifications, paternity matters, and relocation cases.

Some benefits of Collaborative Divorce to consider include:

  • The "final say" will not be in the hands of a judge
  • Potentially less costly than traditional divorce, especially when heavy litigation is involved
  • Often, this option is less adversarial and more amicable than traditional divorce

The Collaborative Divorce lawyers at McKinley Irvin have helped many divorcing couples reach reciprocally satisfying resolutions in a civil and respectful manner by using various dispute resolution approaches, including Collaborative Divorce.

Working Together to Reach a Mutually Agreeable Resolution

In the unique process of Collaborative Divorce, each party retains a lawyer specially trained to handle Collaborative Divorce cases. The lawyers representing both parties are not at odds, as is the case with divorce litigation, but rather work as a team to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

The collaborative team not only includes the divorcing couple and their lawyers, but can also include a financial specialist, a divorce coach, and a child specialist if children are involved.

Signing a Participation Agreement

The Collaborative Divorce process commences with the signing of a participation agreement. By signing this agreement, both parties and their team members agree to resolve all disputes outside of court and in a respectful, confidential manner. The Participation Agreement also includes information about the Collaborative Divorce process, such as its rules and expectations.

Settling And Resolving Collaborative Divorce Cases

In our experience, arriving at a resolution in collaborative cases typically takes about the same amount of time as traditional divorce cases. The lawyers will draft the formal agreement once both parties agree on a settlement, and enter the agreed final orders with a court which legally dissolves the marriage. These steps complete the collaborative proceeding with the court.

The 4 Key Principles of Collaborative Law

In theory, the Collaborative Law process sounds like the perfect choice, but divorce and family law matters are emotionally charged. In reality, the parties frequently cannot work together effectively and are unable to agree on what constitutes a fair and reasonable resolution. Many instances make Collaborative Law a poor choice, such as domestic violence, a historical imbalance of power in the relationship, a lack of trust, or the inability to constructively or respectfully communicate.

The four key principles in Collaborative Law are:

  1. Both parties commit at the outset to resolve all issues by agreement without court intervention, and without threatening court intervention.
  2. If either client seeks court intervention at any time, both attorneys must withdraw from representation, and each party must hire a new attorney to represent them.
  3. Both parties and the attorneys agree to participate in good faith negotiations, disclosure of all information openly and freely, and interact in a respectful manner.
  4. All participants agree that all communications (oral or written) prepared during the Collaborative Law process are inadmissible in any future court proceeding without the express written consent of the participants.

Collaborative Law vs. Cooperative & Traditional Law

There are fundamental difference between Collaborative Law, Cooperative Law, and traditional law practice.

If negotiations don’t work:

  • Collaborative Law – You must fire your attorney, hire a new attorney who will go to court, and start your case over from the very beginning.
  • Cooperative Law & Traditional Law Practice – Your case continues with your attorney, the work done up to the point of failed negotiations is preserved, and the court or arbitrator decides unresolved issues.

McKinley Irvin offers Collaborative Law representation in family law matters. We believe it can work for some, but also that clients should approach this method after complete disclosure of the pros and cons, and with the knowledge that there are alternative methods of dispute resolution which may have less drastic consequences than Collaborative Law.

"What if we can't come to an agreement?" - Terminating the Collaborative Process

The Collaborative Divorce process is not right for everyone. In some cases, both parties may be unable to come to an agreement. In this event, the collaborative process can be terminated. Once the collaborative process is terminated, both parties can move forward using the traditional method, but may not do so using the attorneys or experts involved during the Collaborative Divorce process.

By choosing to terminate the collaborative process and move forward with the traditional dispute resolution process, both parties are essentially agreeing to:

  • Retain new counsel - collaborative attorneys cannot represent the parties in any future litigation or traditional adversarial process, and
  • Start case work over - in court, you generally cannot use the work that was done in the collaborative process.

For those who like the idea of minimizing conflict but without the risk of having to hire new divorce lawyers and starting the process over again, we recommend considering the Cooperative Divorce dispute resolution model.

Is Collaborative Divorce Right For You?

Divorcing is not always an easy process, regardless of the method you choose. Our team of skilled professionals will ensure that you choose the best dispute resolution process for your unique situation. While Collaborative Divorce is generally a more amicable option, it does not mean you and your spouse have to agree at all times or on all points. Choosing this method does, however, require both parties to be willing to understand one another's point of view and to treat each other with respect in order to arrive at a mutually beneficial resolution.

Collaborative Divorce also requires a significant amount of time and focus on communication, four-way meetings, and engaged processing between the parties themselves, with their attorneys, and with collateral professionals involved in the case. As such, parties should be equally secure and confident in their ability to openly and honestly communicate with one another.

Collaborative Divorce may also be a suitable option for non-traditional families, such as couples in same-sex relationships or couples in non-marital relationships. The laws governing these family relationships are constantly evolving, and our lawyers are at the forefront of this emerging area of family law.

McKinley Irvin will help you navigate through the unique issues and process involved in Collaborative Divorce, whether you are in a traditional or non-traditional family situation. If you are considering divorce and would like to explore your options for resolving your divorce, we encourage you to contact us and schedule a consultation. The Collaborative process is just one of several approaches available for couples seeking a divorce. We will help you identify the process, whether Collaborative or otherwise, that is best for your particular circumstances.

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