Using the Collaborative Law approach to settlement

This voluntary and confidential process for dispute resolution recognizes that people can separate in a manner which respects the humanity of each person in the family. Collaborative Law provides a civilized and respectful path to settlement. It creates a supportive environment for communicating goals and interests without blaming. Creative solutions are encouraged. Clients rely on an open exchange of information to make informed choices. The participation agreement includes a pledge not to threaten court intervention in order to gain a negotiation advantage.

Do you remember your first date with your spouse or partner? What was it that made you want to have a second date? Can you still see that person despite your differences now?

An ongoing, but different relationship with your spouse may be important to you. A continued relationship is inevitable if you have children. The Collaborative process makes use of allied professionals to enhance communication and improve information flow. A coach ensures that each party is heard and helps to address emotional barriers to agreement. The coach, who usually has a counseling background, will also help parents develop a parenting plan. Sometimes a child specialist will be used to bring the voice of the children into the process without putting them in the middle. In most cases, a Certified Divorce Financial Planner is used to gather financial records, develop budgets and help generate scenarios for financial settlement that look beyond a simple division of assets to future impact.

Sounds appealing but expensive? The process is really designed to be cost effective. It can be tailored to your individual needs. Duplicate effort by attorneys is minimized compared to a traditional adversarial approach. Costly court actions are avoided. Enhanced communication through use of coaches can move the process along in a more effective manner. Most importantly, the emotional cost of a “win-lose” approach is avoided. The parties can move forward with integrity. Parents can manage their two household family with the knowledge that each places the needs of the children above a desire to “win” the conflict.

Negotiated Settlements

The traditional method for solving legal disputes is a win-lose approach in which each party focuses energy on disparaging the other party in an effort to appear the most worthy. This is a financially and emotionally costly process.

There are a number of methods for resolving disputes with more win-win approaches and varying degrees of assistance.

You and your spouse or partner can negotiate directly in what is often called “kitchen table negotiation”. This method works well if your communication is generally effective and there is a relatively level playing field. That means information is equally accessible or forthcoming and there is a relative balance of power so neither party feels uncomfortable about stating interests and goals. Carol can assist with these “Do it yourself” negotiations by consulting on options or conflict coaching.

Mediation is one method of helping parties when an impasse is reached during direct negotiations. The mediator can help to keep communication effective, balance power, and expand options.

In situations where a kitchen table approach might not work but a commitment to resolving the dispute without court intervention remains, parties can engage attorneys to assist with negotiations. Collaboratively trained attorneys prefer to work cooperatively even when parties do not choose a formal Collaborative Law process. This means they will facilitate a voluntary exchange of information and focus their effort on reaching agreement rather than preparing for trial. Parties who are committed to resolving their issues without court intervention can find attorneys specially trained to help them negotiate agreements at King County Collaborative Law.

Even when parties are successful negotiating on their own, it is always a good idea to have agreements reviewed and drafted by attorneys. An experienced lawyer will notice missing details and will minimize future conflict with clearly written agreements./p>

Agreements for new and ongoing relationships

You’ve met the love of your life and the last thing on your mind is the legal implication of combining your lives. I get it. And, there are legal implications just the same. Discussing your financial intentions and expectations can make your relationship better, stronger and lasting. Even if you aren’t ready to talk money management with your significant other, it is a good idea to have a consultation just so you know what to consider. This is especially so if you are planning to cohabitate, already own property, expect an inheritance, own a business or are supporting children and/or spouses from other relationships.

Cohabitation Agreements

Washington does not have common law marriage but living together can affect property rights. Setting intentions in an agreement can help to clarify matters whether or not you eventually marry.

Prenuptial Agreements

If you are planning to get married, you may want to consider exploring your expectations and intentions regarding property you already own and property you may acquire during marriage. Washington’s community property law is designed to create equity in ownership when couples accumulate property but sometimes results are unexpected. You may be reluctant to discuss prenuptial agreements because it feels like planning for divorce just when you are entering into wedded bliss. I believe that the discussion, whether or not an agreement is the goal, can help to strengthen your marriage because you have the opportunity to openly explore your attitudes and expectations around finances and spending. I see too many couples split because their money personalities don’t mesh and they never addressed their differences in a healthy way. If you can talk about the tough stuff now it will help keep the communication flowing throughout your marriage.

An enforceable agreement requires transparency and sufficient time for negotiation and counsel. This process should begin well in advance of the wedding date.

Post-nuptial Agreements

Couples can clarify expectations and understanding in an agreement after marriage. The principal difference between a prenuptial and a post-nuptial agreement is that the marriage has taken place so the couple’s legal status has changed. There may not be a desire to alter it by agreement. Nevertheless, it may be wise to set intentions about specific aspects of property ownership. For example, there are several things to consider when couples decide to remodel a home that one of them owned before marriage.

Altering property rights by agreement has implications in the case of a divorce or legal separation but also on the death of a spouse. Estate planning will address how your property is distributed on death and a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement clarifies what is in the estate.

Estate Planning

Basic planning for unexpected events is easy to put off. Even when you don’t have a lot of property, it is important to have some basic documents in place for peace of mind. There are three parts to a simple plan that everybody should have.

Last Will and Testament

Most people are familiar with the concept of a Will and understand that it is a means of controlling how your property is distributed after your death. There are rules about where your property goes if you die “intestate” or without a Will. You have an opportunity to express wishes that differ from the rules in your Will. This is the basic function of a Will but it can do other important things.

Your Will can express who you would want as guardians for minor children if both parents are gone. It can establish a trust for children so that distributions for their benefit are monitored and carefully considered until they are out of college or even beyond. Many parents feel more comfortable having property distributed to children in stages so they have a chance to mature and make mistakes. A testamentary trust can accomplish that goal.

Durable Power of Attorney

Many people think about what will happen if they die but forget to consider what will happen if they are unable to manage their own affairs while alive. This power of attorney will give a trusted agent the authority to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to communicate because you are ill or missing. You’ll want somebody to pay your bills and manage your assets so that they can be put to use for your care if necessary.

Health Care Directives

Medical care gets more complex by the day. It is no longer just a question of whether to “pull the plug” or not. There are a wide variety of situations where you may want to receive or refuse care but are unable to communicate. It is important to give your loved ones some direction about the choices you would make and to designate somebody to speak for you when you are unable to participate in your own health care decisions. A Health Care Directive can also provide guidance regarding organ donation, consent for autopsy, funeral arrangements and wishes regarding disposal of your remains. Granted, these things are not fun to think about but it is important to have a plan.

I offer a package including each of these documents at a low flat fee for individuals and couples. Much of the process can be done by email or phone conference further minimizing the obstacles to getting these important documents done!

DIY (Do It Yourself) Legal Services

It may not be financially feasible to hire an attorney to represent you throughout your legal process. That doesn’t mean you have to go it alone or struggle to find limited volunteer assistance. Carol can assist you in representing yourself. You pay only for the services you need which may include:

  • Advice on an hourly basis
  • Assistance with finding and filling out forms
  • Help understanding court rules and procedures
  • Drafting documents and agreements
  • Calculating child support
  • Drafting advice for parenting plans
  • Consultation during a mediation session

In some cases both parties may choose to save on attorney fees and work only with a mediator to negotiate a settlement. Carol can help you prepare for a mediation session so you can approach it with confidence and an ability to make informed decisions.

With the self-help approach, you represent yourself with targeted advice and assistance giving you confidence to navigate your selected process whether it is litigation or negotiation. It allows you to decide how much to spend on legal services because you determine how much help you will need during the legal process. Some DIY services are billed at an hourly rate and some are flat fee, call for details.

Conflict Coaching

Sometimes you may just need to work through one issue. Conflict arises in marriages and after marriage between parents. You may have tried to discuss the issue but the communication isn’t working. In conflict coaching, Carol will work with you to become clear about your needs, interests and feelings in the conflict. Once those are clearer, you’ll identify strategies for addressing the conflict on your own. This isn’t therapy or legal advice. It is designed to enhance your ability to manage conflict in an effective way. In targeted low cost hourly sessions, you’ll gain insight and discover strategies to manage a specific conflict.

[Carol] is smart and detail-oriented. I am happy to recommend Carol to assist you with family law matters.

— Junita, former client
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