Most residents of the Dallas area who are contemplating a marriage are also contemplating an extended period in which their lives will be disrupted by anger, stress and uncertainty. Judges and attorneys have been trying for years to modify the marriage dissolution process to eliminate as much of this unpleasantness as possible. First came so-called “no fault divorce,” in which the court accept the allegations of one or both parties that the marriage relationship had foundered on irreconcilable differences. Then, courts began directing couples to use trained mediators to resolve their divorces. Texas attorneys are now using a process called “collaborative divorce” in a further effort to make the divorce process less stressful.
In 2001, the Texas legislature passed a bill authorizing the use of collaborative law techniques if both parties agreed to abide by those techniques. The collaborative process begins with the parties and their attorneys negotiating and signing a binding contract that obligates both spouses and the lawyers to make a good faith attempt to resolve the dissolution of the marriage without resorting to judicial intervention except for the final approval of the judgment as agreed to by the parties. The collaborative law agreement must include provisions for (1) full and complete disclosure of financial information, (2) suspending resort to court while the parties are using collaborative law procedures, (3) hiring experts to serve both sides, (4) the agreement of all lawyers to withdraw from the case if the collaborative procedure does not result in a mutually satisfactory agreement and (5) any other provisions that may be added by the parties if the provisions are consistent with the principles of collaborate law.
The collaborative model includes the following basic steps:
- Orientation, in which the parties are instructed by their lawyers how the process works;
- Client conferences, in which the parties who wish to use the process meet with their attorneys and provide required information;
- Settlement conferences, in which the parties and their attorneys meet to discuss the various issues, identify information that will be required, and potential solutions to the parties’ unresolved issues;
- Drafting and editing of joint settlement agreement.
If the parties are able to reach an agreement the signed document is presented to the court, and the court enters judgment according to the agreement.
Collaborative divorce is not suited for all cases, such as those involving domestic violence. Anyone wishing additional information may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney.