Collaborative Family Law is a method of resolving disputes whereby the attorneys for both parties, as well as the parties themselves, agree to assist each other in resolving conflicts and reaching agreement using cooperative strategies rather than adversarial techniques and litigation. The parties and attorneys agree that they will not go to court during the time they are working towards settlement. A key element of a collaborative practice is the premise that if an agreement is not reached, the attorneys withdraw and will not engage in a litigated action.

Collaborative Family Law combines the positive qualities of litigation and mediation. Each couple member has an independent attorney who will give them quality legal advice and will advocate for their needs. However, the parties and attorneys commit to an open and honest exchange of information and a commitment to settle without going to court.

In Collaborative Family Law the parties maintain control over the decision making process rather than letting a judge decide. Parties to family disputes often have continuing relationships with each other, as co-parents or through a circle of friends. Collaborative law increases the possibility of maintaining a civil relationship.

Collaborative Family Law should also dramatically reduce legal fees and costs. The lawyers do not engage in extensive depositions, hearings, a trial, and other adversarial proceedings. There is no “battle of the experts” since should appraisals or evaluations be necessary, the parties jointly agree on the expert. The focus on settlement moves the case to resolution faster than the typical court-directed case. Collaborative Family law can be used when appropriate, for post-dissolution disputes, as well as for dissolution actions.

In summary:

  • Both parties and attorneys commit themselves to settle your case without court or the threat of going to court.
  • The goal is to reach a resolution which meets the needs and concerns of all the parties in an equitable manner.
  • Custody issues will be negotiated in a way that protects the children from the dispute.
  • Should the parties require the services of an accountant, or mental health professional, both parties will agree on the person to be used to help facilitate the process or a resolution.
  • The parties, and their attorney sign a “Participation Agreement” which outlines the obligations and responsibilities of each towards the process.
  • Both parties have lawyers committed to the process of Collaborative Family Law. Should either member of the couple, or their attorney, resort to the use of court, the collaborative process is considered broken and each member of the couple must obtain new counsel. This is a key element of the collaborative process.
  • The parties have expressly decided to work together with their attorney to resolve their issues without extensive, expensive, and often emotionally draining litigation. The attorney will no longer have the individuals as clients if court is the only solution.

Since the parties have usually resolved many issues before encountering a roadblock, all participants have a vested incentive to discuss ideas to resolve the problem and move forward with a settlement, a settlement that both parties and their attorneys have worked together to reach.

Arlene Richman is an attorney practicing family law in South Florida since 1987. She is a certified family law mediator, and is a founding member and current director of Collaborative Lawyers, Inc., a state-wide educational and professional development association and business directory of independent Florida licensed attorneys at law and law firms who practice in the areas of collaborative divorce and collaborative family law.


For more information on collaborative law, see the website of Collaborative Family Lawyers of South Florida for information about the local association and its member lawyers in Broward and South Palm Beach County.