I began representing clients using the Collaborative Law Process in 2004 as soon as I was trained to do so. Over time, the number of other attorneys trained in the Collaborative Law Process grew, and more information became available on websites and the internet. As a result, potential clients began contacting me requesting this service.
In 2009 and 2010, the Uniform Law Commissions promulgated a Uniform Collaborative Law Act that could be adopted in various jurisdictions so there would be consistencies in how the process would be used with clients. Gradually, states began to sign the UCLA into law.
The professionals that I work with in Virginia formed a group to network with one another and with collaboratively trained professionals throughout the country. In addition, we began teaching educational programs about the Collaborative Law process to other lawyers, family specialists and financial professionals. Overall, we worked together with family law leaders throughout Virginia to understand the process and obtain their support in our endeavor.
In addition, we drafted proposed legislation and then found a patron to file the Bill to present to the legislature. I served on a Study Committee appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia where the draft bill was reviewed by judges, legislators, and Virginia family law leaders.
I testified before the House and the Senate and met with Governor Ralph Northam as he signed the Uniform Collaborative Law Act into Virginia law, with the new statute in effect July 1, 2021. A culmination of a great deal of work!
How does this new statute impact the public and family law clients?
The court has authority to enforce the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement which is a contract signed by the parties and includes a provision that their attorneys are generally disqualified from subsequent representation in contested litigation between the parties. There will be no litigation during the Collaborative Law Process.
Previously, the boundaries of the process were memorialized by contract signed by the parties upon agreement to use the Collaborative Law Process to resolve their issues. Now, in addition to having a signed participation agreement as a contract between the parties, the confidentiality of Collaborative Law communications is recognized by statute.
Each party is represented by a Collaborative Attorney and there is the option of including other family communication specialists and financial neutrals to assist the parties in the process. All professionals involved have the sole focus and purpose of assisting the clients with their goal to reach a settlement.
Attorneys are required to explain this process to their clients as an option for resolution and to evaluate the pros and cons with their client, so the client can make an educated choice whether the client would like to proceed with the Collaborative Law Process.
While the Collaborative Law Process may or may not be the best process in a certain case, a client who chooses this process has the protections outlined in the new law and the attorney representing the client in this process has boundaries that must be followed.
The Collaborative Law Process is a good option for families. It enables clients to resolve their legal issues outside of court, while each has legal representation in a process that is respectful and supportive and enables clients to reach an amicable resolution that achieves the interests of the parties (and their children) as much as possible.