If you follow Pennsylvania politics at all, you’ve likely heard much about local redistricting fights and other contentious issues. What you may not have heard about is a new bill introduced by Representative Kate Klunk last summer to formalize the collaborative law process in Pennsylvania. The bill is currently under discussion within the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee and will hopefully move forward this legislative year.
While many family law firms have been using collaborative law methods for years (including our own), this new bill seeks to formally encode the practice within Pennsylvania. Moreover, it recognizes the valuable contribution this less antagonistic approach to resolving disputes makes within our society.
This may leave you wondering exactly what collaborative law entails. Here are some of the basics.
A non-court solution
The heart of collaborative law is the commitment all parties have to resolving their differences outside of the courtroom. Each person retains their own attorney, who must be trained in collaborative law. All four work then together to come up with solutions to the dispute at hand, whether it involves dividing marital property and debt, creating a fair parenting plan, modifying an existing divorce or custody agreement, or all of the above.
Importantly, all parties sign an agreement at the outset that if they cannot reach a settlement, each side will need to retain new attorneys before taking the matter to court. This means each side has a stake in working toward a successful outcome.
Sharing information is crucial
For the collaborative process to work, both sides need to be completely honest about their finances, their sticking points and their ultimate goals. Without complete transparency, the process can quickly break down. For this reason, many couples choose to involve outside experts like financial planners, tax specialists, professional appraisers and even family therapists to inform their discussions.
The process is flexible
The time and investment spent in the collaborative process varies from family to family, but in general the process is cheaper, faster and more flexible than a traditional court process. This is because both people, in consultation with their attorneys, maintain control over the outcome. They set the schedule and the priorities for each meeting until all the issues have been worked out. No matter if it takes a few meetings or several, you do not need to wait on a busy judge and courthouse schedule to get the matter settled.
The goal is to come away with a settlement agreement that outlines all of the decisions made throughout the process. This final agreement is then submitted to the court for final approval.
Is it right for you?
Given all of the benefits of collaborative law, it should be acknowledged that it still isn’t necessarily “easy.” There is still a lot of work involved, and it can be emotionally taxing for some. This is why having an attorney specifically trained in collaborative law is crucial. They will act as your guide through this process, always looking out for your best interests in the hopes of seeing you successfully transition into this new stage of life.