Collaborative law: A new approach to family law in Alabama

The Alabama Legislature passed numerous laws in the 2013 session to promote child welfare. Laws concerning the safety of children in schools and on school buses were passed, as were budget measures increasing funding for programs that help children. In addition, a new law that is meant to provide an alternative to litigation in many matters affecting children will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

The Uniform Collaborative Law Act is meant to provide resolution to domestic matters, including divorce, child support, child custody or visitation, adoption, parentage, and premarital, marital or post-marital agreements without the need to litigate before a court or administrative tribunal.

How collaborative law works

Collaborative law works best when the couple who is separating wants to work together to provide a fair, respectful outcome to their family law issues. Many divorcing couples who have children want to put their children's best interests first, and a collaborative law agreement is one way to do this. The collaborative law process requires trust and cooperation among the parties, which can help the parties work together for the sake of their children.

When a couple decides to use collaborative law to determine domestic issues, the first step is for each party to choose an attorney and then sign a collaborative law participation agreement, also known as a four-way agreement. The agreement must state the nature and scope of the matter and the collaborative law process. It must also identify the parties' attorneys and contain a statement by each lawyer confirming his or her representation of a party to the process.

One of the most important aspects of collaborative law is that if the process terminates before a successful conclusion, the attorneys are disqualified from representing their clients in court proceedings concerning the same issues. This encourages the parties to work together towards a meaningful solution. The parties have to hire new attorneys and restart their entire case if the process terminates, losing the time and money they have spent, which provides an impetus to carry the process through to an agreeable conclusion. In addition, if the parties employ any professional consultants during the collaborative process, for example, a financial expert or a mental health professional, the professionals are disqualified from testifying in a later court proceeding. The need to hire additional experts for litigation is another financial incentive for the parties to continue working toward a collaborative law solution.

An interesting fact about hiring professionals in collaborative law is that each party does not hire a competing expert. One professional serves as a neutral expert for both parties, which adds to the cooperative nature of the process.

There are situations in which the collaborative law process is not recommended. If there has been domestic abuse in the relationship, or if there are trust issues which the parties cannot overcome, the parties should not engage in a collaborative process. However, if the parties believe they can work together and continue to be partners in parenting their children, the collaborative law process may prove a successful alternative to litigating their divorce and the issues involved therein.

Is collaborative law right for you?

If you and your spouse are separated and contemplating a divorce under Alabama law, but you both feel that you can pursue an amicable end to your marriage, you should contact an attorney who can advise you on the possible benefits and drawbacks of pursuing a collaborative law divorce.

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