Colorado Collaborative Divorce
Gutterman Griffiths PC offers a wide spectrum of means to achieve resolution of your family law matter.
One method to achieve resolution is to have a collaborative law case, and another way is to use collaborative techniques to resolve a case that is not formally a collaborative law case. Many of our attorneys have active collaborative practices, in addition to providing litigation services. Most Gutterman Griffiths attorneys are collaboratively trained.
The collaborative process is a unique and exciting approach to resolve family disputes in a way that is low-conflict, respectful and offers a different perspective from “winning” and “losing,” instead focusing on what honors the parties’ respective needs and abilities with a highly customized solution.
What Is Different About a Collaborative Law Case?
A collaborative law case is one in which the parties and their counsel all commit to resolve the matter out of court. If a court case was previously commenced, a stipulation can be filed with the court to take the case “off line” into a collaborative settlement process. During the collaborative settlement process, the court is not asked by either party individually for any court-ordered relief. When settlement is achieved, the settlement papers for the collaborative family law matter will be filed with the court and become court orders on approval by the court. It is our experience that Colorado’s courts are supportive of collaborative settlement of cases, because Colorado families that use this process are likely to achieve resolution meeting the needs of the entire family and are substantially less likely to return for post-decree litigation than occurs in cases with litigation.
What Does the Collaborative Settlement Process Look Like?
The collaborative process will involve a series of collaborative team meetings to work on settlement of the case in an orderly manner. At each meeting of the full team, each party to the case will have benefit of advice of that party’s own collaborative counsel. Each party, with help from counsel, will discuss that party’s needs and interests in the matter, as the entire negotiation is an “interest-based” negotiation.
In addition to full team meetings, the parties can meet individually and as a couple with subject matter experts, such as a child specialist, financial expert or collaborative process facilitator. These meetings for parties with a specialist involve work to prepare for the subject matter of subsequent meetings, as well as to support each party’s ability to participate in the best fashion to achieve resolution and articulate fully any concerns of that party. In appropriate cases, the attorneys may recommend appointment of individual or joint coaches for the parties. In many cases, the collaborative divorce process facilitator will attend each collaborative team meeting. This can sound like a lot of additional professionals, but generally what happens with a collaborative case is the additional professionals are hired at the outset to promote settlement, rather than being hired when issues prove intractable or experts are needed for hearings.
A case plan is worked up at the start of the collaborative case, with each team member agreeing as to the plan. Each meeting has the agenda and duration agreed by the parties. Usually there are five or more meetings of two to three hours, with an agenda agreed and circulated prior to each meeting. After the meeting, notes are circulated reflecting the interim commitments and agenda for the next meeting.
Can We Avoid Disclosures by Working Collaboratively?
No. Collaboration requires full transparency. Each collaborative case has the objective to achieve resolution of outstanding issues that will be expressed in an agreement that will be filed with the court. The court will also expect a full and accurate Sworn Financial Statement and Certificate of Compliance with Financial Disclosures to be filed with the court. (The court’s file can be sealed.) The information needs are the same, whether a matter is resolved collaboratively or in litigation. Moreover, recent Colorado case authority confirms the longstanding view of collaborative counsel of Gutterman Griffiths PC that full disclosure is required to reach an agreement that is durable.
Does a Collaborative Case Save Money?
The only provable savings from a collaborative law case is that a collaborative case is far less likely to be followed up by post-decree litigation within the five years after the decree than a litigation case. Cases that become expensive in either a litigated or collaborative process are equally likely to have been expensive in the other approach. Collaborative cases are extremely likely to result in full settlement, which saves trial costs. At Gutterman Griffiths, it is our experience that even our “litigation track” cases are quite likely to result in full settlement prior to trial. The goal to save money sometimes can contribute to a choice for a collaborative process, however that is not a sufficient reason to choose collaboration.
What Difference Does a Collaborative Process Make for My Family?
A collaborative case process will keep your family out of court. It will also give your family experience at resolving matters without resort to litigation, and model positive dispute resolution for your children. While a collaborative case process is never a guarantee that issues will not arise in the future, the collaborative process will certainly provide tools for a more peaceful future for your family. A shocking number of family law matters are followed up by years of rancor and litigation between parties after the first litigated result. Families who collaborate are able to avoid going to Court both in the initial matter and in the years to follow.
Will a Collaborative Process be Less Painful?
Sadly, pain is nearly unavoidable in family law matters. While a collaborative process can reduce the unnecessary friction sometimes occurring in a litigated process, the changes necessary to resolve a family law matter will not be painless. On the other hand, your collaborative team will support your experience of the process, and will help you avoid the pain of feeling that you have not taken every possible measure to avoid having caused undue pain to the other party or to your children in the process.
Will I Lose My Attorney if My Case Does Not Settle?
That depends. If both parties agree at the outset that you will fire your lawyers if the case does not settle collaboratively, then your collaborative attorneys will not be available for litigation. Nor can any other member of that attorney’s firm be involved in the litigation. Many experienced collaborative practitioners believe that attorney disqualification supports settlement. In our experience, it is quite rare for a collaborative case to not result in full resolution, regardless of attorney disqualification. However, if you find everything else about a collaborative approach attractive, but you are concerned about attorney disqualification, you can have every other benefit of the collaborative approach that is available without attorney disqualification. There are considerations both for and against attorney disqualification, and these should be discussed fully with your attorney before you make a decision about your collaborative process and attorney disqualification. Regardless of your decision on this important issue, the attorneys at Gutterman Griffiths will support you in collaborative resolution of your case, if that is your choice.
Is Collaborative Law the Right Approach for My Case?
Almost any case or composition of legal issues in a family law matter can be addressed collaboratively. Generally, however, we will not commence a collaborative case on behalf of a client if we believe the matter is unlikely to reach resolution in a collaborative manner. A case is inappropriate for collaboration, if it is reasonably predictable that litigation in court may be required to achieve resolution. Attorneys for both parties will assess the suitability of a case for collaboration, prior to commencing a collaborative law process. Even if we advise you that your case is not suitable for collaboration, we will make every effort to resolve your case with as little friction as possible. It is our preference that everything we do has the effect to support our clients’ ability to achieve an appropriate resolution. We will brainstorm with you to achieve solutions that meet your needs, whether within a collaborative or litigated approach.
What is the First Step to Take to Consider Collaboration?
At your first meeting with an attorney or early in your case, discuss the potential to resolve your case collaboratively with your attorney. Please also look at the Colorado Collaborative Divorce Professionals website for more information that you and your spouse or co-parent might want to consider.