What are the steps that are taken when a couple is interested in resolving their divorce outside of court through the collaborative process? Some people are not entirely sure since resolving a divorce or family law matter collaboratively is still a relatively new concept to most individuals.
While the precise order of the steps taken in a collaborative divorce (or other family law matter) can sometimes vary due to the individual needs of the specific couple and the collaborative professionals selected, the following is a fairly accurate roadmap for most collaborative matters in Ohio:
- HIRE COLLABORATIVE LAWYERS. Each of the parties hires his/her own lawyer who is both trained and experienced in collaborative practice (as a rule of thumb, the more training and experience the lawyers have in collaborative practice, the better). Each lawyer is hired with a limited scope representation agreement. A limited scope representation agreement means that the collaborative lawyer can only assist so long as the parties are engaged in the collaborative process (if a couple chooses to not use the collaborative process, then each of the spouses must understandably hire different lawyers for litigation). Importantly, lawyers who are trained in collaborative practice, according to the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“IACP”), are lawyers who have, at a minimum, 40 hours of mediation training and 16 hours of interdisciplinary training in collaborative practice.
- ENTER INTO A COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT. After each of the parties has hired his/her own lawyer trained in collaborative practice on a limited scope representation, the parties and their collaborative attorneys then meet to sign a Collaborative Family Law Participation Agreement. A participation agreement denotes that the parties will engage in a collaborative family law process, as defined and governed by the Ohio statutes (specifically,ORC Sections 3105.42-.54 & .64(C)), to resolve their divorce or family law matter.
- SELECT OTHER MEMBERS OF THE PROFESSIONAL TEAM. When both parties and their collaborative attorneys sign the Collaborative Family Law Participation Agreement, the parties also decide what other professionals will be included on the collaborative team to assist the parties in reaching a mutually empowered and well-informed resolution. In other words, will the parties use a divorce coach? A child specialist? A neutral financial professional? If so, these individuals must be expressly named as part of the team.
- ENGAGE IN INTEREST-BASED DISCUSSIONS THROUGH MEETINGS. After the above steps have been taken, meetings take place to gather information,identify interests, explore options, and reach mutually acceptable terms for resolution of the divorce or other family law matter. The number of meetings(and who will be in attendance) will vary based on the facts and circumstances of the case, including not just the legal complexities that may be presented but also the ease with which the parties can effectively communicate with each other.
- PREPARE AND EXECUTE SETTLEMENT DOCUMENTS, THEN ATTEND A SHORT HEARING. After a framework for resolution is reached, settlement documents must be prepared to fully and completely reflect the agreement of the parties. After both parties have signed those settlement documents, they can be presented to the Court as part of a Petition for Dissolution. A short hearing is then held by the Court, perhaps in as few as 7 days and typically in no more than 45 days (the Ohio Collaborative Family Law Act allows the parties to dispense with the usual minimum 30-day waiting period), at which hearing the parties affirm their agreement and the Court proceeds to grant the dissolution.
Ultimately, there might sometimes be variance in the unfolding of these proceedings. But the steps described above present a good general roadmap that can be helpful for most parties to better understand the collaborative process.