Collaborative Family Law

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Editor’s Note: It’s an unfortunate fact that roughly half of marriages end in divorce. The process of formally dissolving a marriage can be incredibly difficult for both adults, and for any children involved. We were intrigued by the concept of collaborative family law, a formal legal process that offers a “healthier” approach to divorce, so we asked Bill McNaught, a collaborative lawyer and owner of the McNaught Law Firm, to help educate us about this approach to divorce.

What’s your 15-second elevator speech about collaborative family law?

Bill McNaught: Collaborative Family Law is an alternative process in the Texas Family Code that encourages the peaceful resolution of disputes involving parents, children and family relationships. It is the most holistic path to a positive and healthy dissolution of marriage. It is a process that involves a team approach that keeps couples out of the courtroom and away from the destructive judicial process. It is a fundamentally fair process designed to reach a fair outcome with the help of a supportive team of professionals, including two trained legal professionals and two neutral professionals with expertise in personal finance and counseling.

The word “divorce” has such a negative connotation. How can the process be positive?

McNaught: Compared to the alternative, many people certainly may view the collaborative law process as more positive. The collaborative family law process is fundamentally different from and superior to the tradition legal process where the procedures and protocols drive the parties to a hostile and combative confrontation at trial in a winner-take-all environment that is unpredictable, chaotic, destructive and expensive. In that process, a third-party judge, who has minimal exposure to your life, your values or your objectives, controls the future outcomes for individuals and families.

In contrast, the collaborative law process uses shared human values and the best interests of children as the directional compass. In collaborative law, the parties make their own informed decisions about their future in a private and confidential process. The process is based on the couple’s informed knowledge provided and supported by the team of relevant professionals. We want informed decisions on matters that directly affect the lives of both parents and children. The team sets the tone for and supports emotional transitions, financial transitions, improved communications and enhanced decisionmaking by the couple.

How does the process work?

McNaught: Collaborative professionals meet with clients in organized sessions and safe office settings to address items on prepared agendas. The meetings take couples through all of the issues necessary to resolve marriages without the need to spend money on trial, trial strategy, depositions, discovery or legal actions to intimidate or undermine the other.

At the first meeting, the collaborative team comes together with the two parties to establish the core values upon which the family resolution will be measured, tested and implemented. The purpose is to uncover the basic human interests that underlie the couple’s shared vision for the future such as the children’s safety, their well-being, their future education, their healthy emotional development, financial security for both parents and the emotional security of everyone involved. Couples make fully informed decisions after deliberation, discussion with, and assistance from professionals who ensure that the couple understands the context and consequences of those decisions.

One of the first strategic objectives is to raise the clients’ awareness of the connections between values and behavior and to maintain that awareness throughout the entire resolution process. The team redirects thinking away from selfish motives towards methods to realize the shared values at the family’s core.

Bill McNaughtBill McNaught is a collaborative lawyer, legal counselor, trial attorney, mediator, nonprofit counselor and consultant, and creatively minded problem solver who offers alternative, traditional and quasi-traditional approaches to help people. He is on the Board of Directors of the Collaborative Professional Association of San Antonio, where he has been a member for several years. To learn more, visit www.mcnaughtlawfirm.com or call 210-202-0088.

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