The Difference Between Collaborative Law and Litigation

At some point in life, statistically, a large percentage of Americans are going to have to endure some form of legal matters with family or business partners. The idea of having to go through any type of proceeding like this makes some people swear off marriage or any type of risk-taking in their lives that may result in a legal dispute in front of a court of law. What if I told you that you could resolve your legal dispute in the matter of six to 12 months, while saving money and having the opinion of an attorney, mental health professional and neutral financial expert to help navigate this rough terrain?

Though the process of divorce, disputes about children and more are never going to be enjoyable, using the collaborative law process can provide a smoother, more efficient and even gentler when approaching these tough life events. Collaborative law is just that — bringing the two parties within a legal dispute together to collaborate on the best practices of how to move forward with the best interest of both involved — and if there are children involved, putting their needs first.

This is how collaborative law works. First, each party picks their own attorney who preferably is collaboratively trained and even better if they are accredited, like I am, to represent them in the matter. After the attorneys are chosen, the attorneys assist them with enlisting the neutrals, the settlement facilitator (who has a mental health background) and a financial neutral professional.

Both of these neutral parties join the collaborative process as part of the team. The team consists of the parties themselves, their respective attorneys, the mental health professional and financial expert who act as neutral facilitators within the group. The approach of neutrality allows for transparency on both sides by each expert analyzing the best case outcome in their own respective fields. The goal is to find a resolution that is equitable.

The settlement facilitator is in charge of keeping the process on track. We set as many team meetings as necessary to get to a resolution. Team meetings are limited to two hours to be sure neither party fatigues and becomes unable to effectively evaluate options for settlement. The facilitator ensures we stick to the agenda that has been agreed upon in advance. If children are involved, the settlement facilitator helps the couple draft a time sharing arrangement, assists in addressing the children’s developmental needs, educational needs and more.

During the process, the team helps the parties grow and evolve during a difficult transition. We work on communication skills and co-parenting skills if children are involved. The process does not provide therapy, but it is therapeutic.

The financial expert helps to educate both parties about the financial aspects of the marriage and provide different options for distributing them. The parties must agree to be transparent in this part of the process. Hiding the ball is not permitted.

One of the best parts of the process is that it allows dispute resolution to happen outside of the courtroom — therefore any issues can be resolved before going on record in a court of law. Everything about the couple’s lives can remain confidential and out of sight from nosey neighbors and/or prospective employers, employees and colleagues. During litigation, everything filed becomes a public record.

After going on record, couples are subject to judgement of what is said in court by their peers, and maybe even later down the line their children. This also means that if either party has a substance use issue, a well-to-do business or anything that they would like to keep confidential, it will not go on public record if not mentioned in a court of law. Rather than a smear campaign, both parties will be able to be cordial to continue their business or co-parent their children after going through this laid-back approach to the typically strained and difficult law proceeding.

Overall, the process provides a great alternative to a centuries-old approach to one of the hardest and most traumatic things that someone can experience in their lives.

By preserving relationships, by helping find solutions to difficult issues, by assisting in option-building and coming to an equitable resolution — it helps people get over resentment and move on with their lives.

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Christen Ritchey is one of the founding partners of Johnson, Ritchey & Feldman, P.A. in Boca Raton where she focuses her practice on family law matters. Christen is a board member for the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, South Palm Beach County Collaborative Law Group, the Women’s Executive Club of Boca Raton, and YMCA. She is also on the Board of the School Advisory Committee at J.C. Mitchell Elementary School. Christen was nominated for the Women of Distinction Award with Soroptimist in 2019. Christen has been a resident of Boca Raton since 1985. She attended the University of Florida and graduated, cum laude in 2002. In 2005 she graduated, with honors, from the Levin College of Law at UF with her J.D. She then returned to Boca where she lives with her husband and two children.

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