Collaborative Family Law is a process by which couples seek to resolve their marital disputes through a cooperative approach rather than through adversarial strategies, coercion or posturing. Although they seek to avoid litigation and minimize stress, the parties are represented by their own attorneys, who assist them in achieving a settlement that works for (and is tailored to the specific needs of) the entire family. While a collaborative approach to resolving marital disputes has been employed in other states for several years, it is a relatively new concept in New York. The Finger Lakes Collaborative Law Group consists of independent matrimonial lawyers with practices in the Finger Lakes area who are specially trained in both mediation and collaborative law and are committed to handling select cases in a constructive and non-confrontational manner.
The drawbacks of matrimonial litigation - artificially imposed court rules and deadlines, substantial expense and an adversarial atmosphere - are all too well known.
While some couples find mediation to be an ideal alternative to litigation for resolving family-related disputes, mediation is not the perfect solution for everyone. Some critics believe that the more compromising party of the two is at a disadvantage in mediation because he or she may be inclined to give up too much. Also, mediation often involves three professionals, not one or two, as mediators typically advise (or insist) that each party retain his or her own attorney to furnish advice outside of the mediation sessions and review any settlement agreement prepared by the mediator.
In collaborative law, there is no judge or mediator. Each party is represented by his or her own attorney who, while representing just one party, is committed - as are the parties - to achieving a win-win result. Each attorney's commitment to an amicable resolution is guaranteed by his or her written undertaking not to represent the client in any ensuing litigation if settlement efforts fail. Thus, all participants are motivated to make the process succeed.
Collaborative law is not just for couples who already see eye-to-eye on all child-related issues or whose financial affairs are relatively uncomplicated. It can he just as effective in cases involving sincere differences of opinion on custody/visitation matters, as well as cases involving many millions of dollars of assets (and assets of every description, including residential and commercial real estate, businesses, professional licenses and practices, and retirement assets). All of the same protections afforded by litigation are available in collaborative law. Full financial disclosure is essential, including an exchange of sworn net worth statements and all relevant documentation. Where it is appropriate to do so, assets are appraised - but by mutually agreed upon neutral appraisers - so duplication of expense and battles of "dueling" experts are avoided. Openness, honesty, fair-dealing, candor and cooperation replace guardedness, secrecy and threats as the techniques most likely to achieve ultimate success.
While working toward a result that is at least as "fair" as one that might he imposed by a judge, the parties have the opportunity to be far more creative in molding their solutions under a collaborative approach. They also enter the process with the confidence that neither attorney is out to take advantage of the other or of the other's client, and that neither attorney will threaten to "go to court."
Abraham Lincoln’s plea to attorneys:
"The true function of a lawyer is to unite parties driven asunder."
Abraham Lincoln’s caution to attorneys:
"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the loser – in faces, expenses and waste of time."